Focus are just about as out there as any prog-rock band in contemporary music history, and their eclectic and at-all-times fascinating performance at Manchester’s Band On The Wall to celebrate 50 years together did nothing other than exemplify why they are so treasured within the genre.
Still led by charismatic Thijs Van Leer and accomplished, original drummer Per van der Linden, the new lineup also featured a phenomenally tight Menno Goodjes on guitar, and versatile six-string bassist, Udo Pannekeet. It was an intimate and mesmerising journey through many of the band’s signature tunes, beginning with the rousing House of the King, which particularly reassured me that Thijs Van Leer was still in fine form.
A fifteen-minute version of Eruption followed, featuring an outlandish flute solo and fantastic guitar work from Goodjes, preceding a tranquil Focus 7 and funk-laden Sylvia, which rounded off a storming first set lasting over an hour. The buzz inside Manchester’s hidden gem, Band On The Wall, was evident in the break when, as Leer insisted, everyone refill their glasses and be merry!
The second set began with the cult classic Who’s Calling from Focus’s second album, before a captivating performance of Focus 11, in which sublime melodies met stellar playing. Song For Ava, All Hens on Deck (with heavy metal overtones) and the driving tango of Birds Come Flying Over (Le Tango) rumbled towards a scintillating climax – the ever popular Focus 2, and the versatile Harem Scarem, in which Goodjes once again stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight, and a dreamy 6-string bass solo by Pannekeet wowed the Focus faithful.
Hocus Pocus finally arrived to the howls of approval, and Leer took off like an exocet rocket with his spiralling keys work and unmistakable yodelling. I’ve rarely been so bewitched by a performer down the years. After Leer had spoken kind words of gratitude to Manchester, claiming “we feel at home here”, he rumbled into Focus 3, which sent those lucky enough to have been part of this unique and dramatic live event home with a spring in their step. My signed vinyl was a bonus that any fan could only dream of!