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FOCUS Astoria 2, London, 29 April 2008

An evening of classic prog kicked off in classical fashion with Whimwise, a new outfit really worth checking out. A nine piece band (the Astoria 2 stage is small enough already), the band are led by former Enid guitarist Nick May ("I'm better now" he tells me) and current Karnataka, db Infusion, Ummagumma and ex everyone pianist Gonzalo Carrera. Also featured are a vocalist/harm, drums, percussion, electric double bass, violin, flute and clarinet. Think classical prog with jazz, medieval, celtic and melodic influences. Actually works really well, and go down well for their 30 minute set. Nick proves a good frontman and chats to the crowd well.

A sparse but enthusiastic crowd are here for Focus, and judging by some of the accents there is a fair Dutch contingent.

Mainstay Thijs van Leer mixes Hammond organ and flute, and various vocal noises too, with "House Of The King" and tracks from Focus 8 and Focus 9. Guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven is no Jan Akkerman but does a very fine job, his work suitably punchy. The return of drummer Pierre van der Linden is welcome, adding a jazz touch, his work almost a constant solo.

Many tracks are extended work outs, mixing classic prog and hard rock with jazz and fusion. The only criticism is when they get too 'fusion', losing any kind of beat you can tap along too.

Even so, older classics such as "Eruption" and "Sylvia" go down very well, the latter getting a huge cheer.

We're 4 tracks in before Thijs gets talking to the crowd but from then on he pretty much introduces every track. "Round Goes The Gossip" and "Harem Scarem" are amongst the set, getting a loud and solid workout.

At times, the band play as if they're all soloing, making the individual solos a little superfluous. And van der Linden's drum solos are more melodic than his playing during the songs.

A couple of times van Leer comes out from his stool to play the flute front of stage and grin inanely.

Two hours of classic Focus, highlighting why they were so popular in the mid 70s and how good they've remained. And no Focus gig would be complete with the yodeling and frantic "Hocus Pocus" (without which you'd be guaranteed a riot). Van Leer's voice may be shot to bits (he still sounds good for 60 odd though) but it's still an easily recognizable classic, the guitar solo from which has been copied by Metallica and many others over the years.

Review by Joe Geesin


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