Kansas Find New ‘Intensity’ During First Post-COVID Live Show
Kansas returned to the stage this past weekend, playing their first concert in 14 months after the pandemic shutdown forced the live-music industry to put things on pause.
“It was a great feeling - kind of surreal in a way,” drummer and founding member Phil Ehart tells UCR. “It was kind of like, ‘Wow, for a while, I thought we’d never get a chance to do this again!’ I came to find out a lot of my peers felt the same way. Everybody’s glad to be getting back out, and the crowd looks really happy, so that’s good.”
For the fans in attendance at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla., on May 8, and the band members themselves, it wasn’t just another show.
“What was really weird about it is that we didn’t get to rehearse as a band in a room where you all go in and run through the songs,” Ehart explains. “We didn’t get to do that because so much was shut down.”
Attempts to book time at a normal rehearsal space or even a theater were unsuccessful. Because they had no way to rehearse as a band, they did the next possible thing and rehearsed individually, working with live recordings of the set list they'd play for their first shows back.
“When we went onstage at Ruth Eckerd, that was the first time we’d played together as a band or even in the same room for 14 months. It had some intensity,” Ehart notes. “Kansas music is intense as it is. But everybody had done their homework. The singing was great, and everybody played well. We had a few bumps here and there. You’d expect that. But it was great. It went really well.”'
Watch Kansas Perform 'Carry On Wayward Son' in Florida on May 8, 2021
Ehart was able to keep himself in road-ready condition by doing what comes most naturally: He got behind the kit each day. “As soon as we came home from the road, I had the road crew bring my touring drum set to my house,” he explains. “My stamina was fine [for the show in Florida]. I knew that I was going to have to hit the ground running. I couldn’t [go], well, I’ll get a few gigs under my belt. No, that’s not going to work. I had to hit the stage at 100 percent.”
As the pandemic was ramping up in March 2020, the members of the band were at the Atlanta airport, preparing to leave for tour. Ehart, who's also been the group’s manager for more than 30 years, got a call from the touring agent letting him know that cities were starting to lockdown. They made the decision to go home.
There was no playbook, yet he was able to keep the band and its surrounding crew intact, which was no small feat. “It was one of those things that you lay awake at night, at three o’clock in the morning, going, ‘Okay, well, how are we going to do this? And what’s going to happen?’ There were no ready answers. It wasn’t like you would pick up the newspaper and it would tell you what was going to happen. Everybody was really riding it out day by day.”
With tour dates now resuming, Kansas have returned to celebrating the legacy of 1977’s Point of Know Return album and will continue to play the album in full at select upcoming shows. There’s also a live album celebrating the ongoing trek, Point of Know Return, Live & Beyond, which will be released on May 28.
Watch Kansas Perform 'Point of Know Return' in Florida on May 8, 2021
Besides "Dust in the Wind," which has been a set-list staple for years, the members had their work cut out when it came to performing the entire album. “So much time has passed. That album came out in the ‘70s, 40-some years ago,” Ehart notes. “Think what you were doing 40 years ago and if you had to go back and recreate a bunch of things that you were doing 40 years ago. It kind of messes with you mentally.
"You want to play it perfectly, and maybe it’s not meant to be,” he says. " Maybe you just let it age naturally and play it as it would be played. Well, that doesn’t work! You can’t play it today like it is - you have to play it like it was then and that’s hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s challenging.”