April 22, 2024

Focus – Live in Leeds 2023 – “a pervasive sense of gentleness and quiet appreciativeness amidst the rocking”

Live at The Brudenell Social Club 29th June 2023

Almost unfamiliar with Focus, apart from the yodelling Hocus Pocus from 1971, I’m a strong believer in the value of live music, especially where a band are determined musos, and came along on spec. I’m glad I did.

With more than fifty years behind them, there is still a palpable sense of joy and commitment to the band, a communication with the audience and a lot of detail and texture to the music. Somehow they maintained interest to over two hours of largely instrumental prog rock. It helps when a band’s emphasis on sound meets the excellent sound of the Brudenell Social Club, as well as the relaxed vibes of the place – Thijs van Leer tells us in his gentle Dutch way that they feel at home (though he does tell everyone that!).

Cutting an odd figure in his cap, long leather coat and pouch hanging near his navel, Thijs is the visual centre of the band, playing the flute, vocal noises and Hammond organ via an extremely elderly Lesley speaker. Opening on the gentle ‘Focus 1’, allows the band to build into a slightly faster pace. Menno Gootjes, gets to lay out legato guitar lines, setting the mood. A comparative whipper-snapper, he has only been in the band a quarter century. He gets faster lines in ‘House Of The King’ before van Leer announces “something atmospheric”; the longform ‘Eruption’. Moving through stages including tasty jazz bass, drum runs and scat, it precedes the set-closer, an old piece that starts on a funky groove.

Udo Pannekeet is the new man, with seven years in the band, and plays a mammoth six string instrument, generally concentrating, smiling and producing clear tuneful bass runs. Pierre van der Linden, who’d played in the band in the seventies is the star of the show, though unflashy. Very much a jazz drummer, his two intricate solos are fascinating and his playing part of the band’s tapestry. rather than a propulsive force.

To open the second set, van Leer tells us “there’s something wrong when a rock band plays a tango”. Picking up a melodica, he leads the band through just that. A new piece, ‘For Bert’ is a song dedicated to a previous bassist, who died last year. Slow and unremarkable, it is at least short. Making up for it, “All Hens On Deck” is fast, fun and the first to really match the description of rock music, the bass has a ton of fun, the guitar chops frantically and Thijs scats and stabs the organ keys. ‘Le Cathedrale de Strasbourg’ quietens things back down, as you’d expect. Written because “the bells are too beautiful”, its partner, ‘Harem Scarem’, from the same album (‘Hamburger Concerto’) is delightfully daft, running fast and slow, pressing the prog buttons and raising a smile. Menno gets an atypical guitar solo. Instead of the usual rock shredding, this is more an exercise in pickup knob twiddling, using the guitar as a fully electric instrument, often reaching keyboard-type sounds. More soloing follows with a bass solo and a jazzy bass and drums duet. It feels celebratory more than indulgent and then the drums kick up a samba and we’re back into the tune. Of course, Thijs gets a flute solo and a bit of vox celeste before the joyful silliness of ‘Hocus Pocus’.

Generously, the band are introduced, as well as the merch man, the lighting and the sound before a lengthy drum solo. ‘Focus 3’ sees us out. All four band members get a chance to show a bit more flash before the evening ends. There has been a pervasive sense of gentleness and quiet appreciativeness amidst the rocking. It’s a packed venue and I am genuinely surprised at the number of people here and the enjoyment to be had in the frequently contemplative yet varied progressive rock tonight. Just goes to show…. Live music, eh?

 

 

Ross McGibbon

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