- Hi all, I'm new here. Here's a review I just submitted to Amazon.com for the early Kansas demos released under the name "Proto-Kaw." What do you think of the recordings? I mostly like them-- they are very uncommercial, which is always when I think Kansas is at their best. -=-= om=== Nick
To me, the funniest thing about this album is Livgren's liner notes where he says "It is also significant, I think, to demonstrate that Kansas was playing progressive music long before we had ever heard some of the bands we have been accused of emulating." Since these demo recording were made between 1971 and 1973, the influence of 1969-1971 albums by King Crimson, ELP, maybe even Traffic, are obvious. Even the record company that released this CD cites early Crimson as an obvious influence. There are moments during this CD where you can pinpoint the exact Crimson passage that is being imitated. Not that I blame Kerry-- you would have to be brain dead not to be influenced by something as amazing as "In The Court of the Crimson King." The merger of rock with jazz/classical/folk/space/world music was inevitable after the groundbreaking work of The Beatles, The Incredible String Band, The Moody Blues, Jimi Hendrix, etc. These late 60s psychedelic pioneers set the stage for a period of unrivaled artistic freedom which we would never see again in pop music at such a wide level-- from 1970 to 1978, the era of progressive rock.
These recordings, songs written by Kerry Livgren but featuring a completely different Kansas band than the one we know and love, are actually quite good despite their demo status. Livgren plays mostly guitar but isn't nearly as upfront as he was in 'official' Kansas. He already has two keyboardists here, so rarely touches the keys, and his guitar style isn't as bombastic and riff-oriented as it would become. There's more of a nod to his jazz interests and he gives the other musicians plenty of time to shine forth. Synths are not present (except a "ring modulator") so this love of later Kansas is replaced (or preceded?) by saxes and flutes, which again, sound very Crimson-like in their uses. The singer is actually pretty good especially on the quieter melodies.
The irony to me is that while later, official Kansas was actually more conventional than these demos, they also sound more original to me. Sure, they were following in the steps of Yes and ELP, but they definitley gave the style a new twist. But these demos, on the other hand, sound almost too close for comfort to early King Crimson. There's nothing wrong with that-- I even like Starcastle who aped YES to near perfection-- but it seems strange for Livgren to not own up to his influences when there's in fact nothing wrong with emulating others. That is how all knowledge is passed around and evolves. We can't all be the catalyst for a major shift-- that comes rarely. But nor does that mean that derivatives are unimportant. I had already been a progrock fan from the word go in 1969-70, and I still was blown away when I first saw Kansas as a warm-up act to Hawkwind in 1974. On the contrary, Kansas line-up of two keyboards, two guitars (Livgren doubling his bandmates on both), two lead vocalists, a violinist and rhythm section, made them one of the best rock-orchestras progrock ever produced! I remember very clearly when I saw them after their breakthrough on the Leftoverture tour, I thought how mature they sounded. It was strange to me that after this point the band started to descend into musical conservatism-- a huge mistake in my opinion. These Proto-Kaw recordings remind of how idealistic musicians were coming out of the psychedelic period into the prog-rock movement, and they give us a glimpse into the early influences of one of progrock's most important composers. == Enjoy == Nick