ABT Intimate Show : Kansas Gears up

Do you remember what were you doing in 1974?

That was the year Kansas broke onto the national scene with their blend of orchestral drama and progressive rock.

It took them a year to get their first album released, and then Kansas cranked out four LPs in two years. But at first, the hits didn’t come. Producer Don Kirshner threatened to drop Kansas from his label unless they came up with a hit.

“Carry On Wayward Son” was their redemption song, written just hours before the 1976 album “Leftovature” was finished. Keyboard player Kerry Livgren sat at his organ at his parent’s house in Topeka, Kan., and created one of rock’s most famous riffs.

Livgren said he was searching for a higher power when he wrote the lyrics. So it’s ironic that the song is used in so many screwball comedies like “Happy Gilmore” and “Anchorman.”

Kansas played for the first time in Billings in 1979 at MetraPark and returned in May 2010, the last show in the old MetraPark arena before a tornado blew the roof off on Father’s Day that year.

I like to think of Kansas playing “Dust in the Wind” as a backdrop to that awful storm.

This time through, Kansas is playing the Alberta Bair Theater in an 11:11 Presents production at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28. Tickets range from $45 to $65.

What a treat to hear Kansas play a 1,300-seat venue with cushy seats.

Founding guitarist Rich Williams said playing a theater just means the band members will stand closer together on stage.

“I like to play theater situations. When the lights go out and it’s dark, you can create a mood onstage. That’s what a theater does for a band.”

Williams and drummer Phil Ehart are the last two founding members still performing with Kansas. They’ve survived personnel changes, an influx of Christian influence that altered the music in the 1990s, and now they are creatively energized, partially because of the current lineup. It includes David Ragsdale on violin, David Manion on keyboard, Ronnie Platt on keyboard and vocals and Billy Greer on bass and vocals.

In a phone interview, Williams talked about the new album, “The Prelude Implicit,” which comes out Sept. 23, and why he’ll never putter.

“I will drop dead on the stage and that’s fine with me. I’m never going to be puttering around the garden with people asking, ‘Rich, why did you quit the band?’”

Now based in Atlanta, Ga., Kansas is gearing up for a fall tour in support of their first new songs in 16 years.

Williams sounds like a kid in a garage band when he talks about the new music.

Fellow Kansas founders Livgren and Steve Walsh, who had written most of the material for Kansas, retired a few years back and that allowed Kansas to do “whatever we wanted,” Williams said.

“Our goal was to really aim for a bull’s-eye with the true nature of what Kansas has been, to define us with the songs and the lyrics,” Williams said.