Miracles Out of Nowhere
by David Chiu
It’s too easy for critics then and now to pigeonhole Kansas with a lot of the other arena rock bands of the ’70s. But they often miss the mark of how good Kansas was and still is, especially for infusing a bit of the heartland into its very elaborate style of progressive rock. That’s the takeaway from this new film documentary –marking the band’s 40th anniversary — spotlighting the band’s first decade of existence under the classic lineup of Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh, Robbie Steinhardt, Phil Ehart, Richard Williams and Dave Hope.
Directed by Charley Randazzo, Miracles Out of Nowhere traces Kansas’ humble beginnings in you-know-where. With a combination of luck and perseverance, this fish-out of-water group hooked up with New York producer Don Kirshner and got a record deal that resulted in its 1974 self-titled debut record. With exposure on Kirshner’s Rock Concert TV series and opening for the likes of Queen and others on the road, Kansas built a following. But it wasn’t until 1976’s Leftoverture album that proved to be the band’s major breakthrough, thanks to Livgren’s “Carry On Wayward Son,” which has since become an staple of AOR radio. The follow-up record Point of Know Return yielded another Kansas smash with the Livgren ballad “Dust in the Wind,” which ironically started out as just a guitar finger-picking exercise; it’s since been the group’s most beloved song.
Some of the most interesting anecdotes mentioned in the film include the important gig at an opera house that helped them get signed to a record deal; the story behind the Kansas album cover; recording in New York City; and how a jealous Steven Tyler of Aerosmith tried to sabotage Kansas’ homecoming gig by literally pulling the plug. The well-produced documentary brings together all six original members reminiscing about the old days along with testimonials from Garth Brooks, Queen’s Brian May, and producer Brendan O’Brien. Miracles Out of Nowhere is an appropriate title for this film, considering that Kansas could have fallen into obscurity had it not been for a series of fortunate breaks. Instead, it’s an opportunity to celebrate a band’s remarkable career that deserves a second opinion from the critics.