Saturday, September 26, 2020

Focus - At The Rainbow (1973)

 (Dutch 1969-1978, 2001-Present)

In 1973, Focus were at their peak! They simultaneously had two Top 10 albums (Focus 3 and Moving Waves) and two hit singles ("Sylvia" and "Hocus Pocus"). All of the musicians were voted as Top 10 musicians in each of their categories. Jan Akkerman was voted world's best guitarist. With a live reputation that proved Focus lived up to these 'Best Musicians' claims, the right thing to do was to release a live album: Focus at The Rainbow. (FACT: on the night of the recording, due to the demand for encores, Focus ran out of pieces to play!).

'At the Rainbow' was the first live album by Focus, released in October 1973 on Imperial / Polydor Records. The album was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 5 May 1973. A studio album was initially slated for release, but it was shelved due to disagreements within the band. (An album compiled from the tapes of these sessions was later released with the title Ship of Memories.) At the Rainbow was released instead.

The instrumental rockers of the early ’70s never were any good at dulling down their musical expertise; and, indeed, it’s only a matter of seconds into their first and only live release — Live at the Rainbow — until one realises just how talented Focus were. Jan Akkerman, named “World’s Best Guitarist” by Melody Maker in 1973 ahead of Eric Clapton and others, was amazingly on form in this performance. Thijs Van Leer, chief songwriter and performer in the band, showcased his talents on flute, vocals, and organ with unparalleled finesse. Bert Ruiter knocked out his bass lines tight to Pierre Van Der Linden’s drums, undoubtedly two of the finest players on their respective instruments. It would be so easy to go off on a tangent explaining the mastery that Focus had musically; suffice to say, however, the bands technical proficiency is rarely matched in the world of rock. Live at the Rainbow featured some of the band’s best and most well known tracks: “Sylvia,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Focus II,” and so on.

Jan Akkerman, Bert Ruiter, Thijsj Van Leer, Pierre van der Linden

Although much of the content sticks closely to its original studio form (12-minute tracks were regular on studio albums), with maybe an extra solo or two thrown in for good measure, a few songs host drastic changes. “Hocus Pocus,” for example, is almost unrecognisable. This live version is multiple times faster than its studio counterpart — those familiar with only the studio version are certainly in for a shock! Throughout the album the performance is simply astonishing. Live at the Rainbow is a fine purchase for any Focus fan, or, indeed, anyone looking for a band with a good degree of originality and musical ability [ extract from Many Fantastic Colours]

Review 1
(by Ivan Melgar M at progarchives.com)

I always read terrible reviews about this album something with I don't agree, of course is not one of their masterpieces, but the quality of the music and the selection of songs is outstanding.
Probably some fans aren't too happy without The House of the King, but the mood of the concert is different to any other band, somehow dreamy and oneiric, with that atmosphere that covers the audience as a thick cloud of mist that covers the listener but instead of suffocating him the music helps to relax (Except of course for Hocus Pocus).

The album starts with the excellent Focus III, a beautiful track with a gentle intro of keyboards and guitar, it's pleasant to listen how the music perfectly flows, almost with no interruptions or dramatic changes until around the third minute when it turns more jazzy oriented as to prepare the organ ending, a short piece of art.

With no interruptions they lead us to Answers? Questions!! Questions? Answers! that creates a perfect contrast with the soft Focus III, the intro is almost frantic at some points based in Akkerman's great guitar riffs and Thijs Van Leer amazing keyboard plus an extra instrument in Thijs voice, because he's one of the few vocalist that doesn't use his voice for singing but for adding extra sounds and laments.

Jan Akkerman
On this track there are many changes and sudden explosions with an organ that sounds very close to the Italian Farfisa of the late 60's that gives the strong Psychedelic sound, but around the middle Thijs offers us one of his incredible flute semi-solos (with drums background followed by another semi solo by Jan Akkerman that reminds me a bit of Steve Hackett), From that point the songs keeps flowing gently with a jazzy atmosphere where all the members of the band are simply amazing. Eleven minutes of different but very talented prog' rock.

Talking about music that gently flows, it's the turn for Focus II, again introduced by Thijs keyboard enhanced by Jan's guitar and a very competent Bert Ruiter in the bass, the keyboard parts are faster than in Moving Waves affecting in some way the soft and perfect balance of the original version, but still very good and relaxing.

Eruption is based in the tragic Greek Myth of Orpheus, the man that created music who was destroyed after her true love's (Euridice) death and went to the rescue, of her down to hell.

The icy queen of the Underworld: Persephone, impressed with the beauty of Orpheus music, pleaded with her husband Hades to let Orpheus bring Euridice back to the land of the living. Hades could not deny his queen her request, and agreed to let Orpheus bring Euridice back on one condition: that he should not look upon her until they were both back in the land of the living. When they were about to reach the light, Orpheus felt doubts and turned back to see Euridice for a second before her soul was taken back to the world of the underworld.


The problem with this beautiful and complex song is that the version for The Rainbow Theater is too short (8:30 minutes against the 23:04 of the original version), this track was composed to musically describe a story and when mutilated for a live concert lacks of sense.

Despite this fact, works as an excerpt, because gives us a clear idea of the beauty of the music with the complex baroque sections like taken from a Cathedral and the peaceful passages that join perfectly with the next sound explosion. Jan Akkerman's solos require special attention because reminds me of Carlos Santana at some points.

Thijs van Leer
The next track is the famous Hocus Pocus which as we all know is just a joke where Thijs yodels at his entire pleasure while Bert Ruiter and Pierre Van Der Linden backup him with appropriate bass and drums, don't take it seriously, not even Akkerman's guitar riffs, as I said before it's just a joke.

The last track (because Hocus Pocus Reprise is really a filler to complete the planned time) is Sylvia, Focus first commercial hit, Thijs dedicates this song to a girl that used to sing with him when both worked as backing vocalists for a well known Crooner from the Netherlands. Originally had lyrics but at certain point Thijs decided to use his voice for anything but singing, good track even when more commercially oriented.

Focus concerts were probably the simplest of Progressive Rock, they almost didn't used lights or created an spectacular show, they only did what they knew best, play their music, and for God's sake, they always did it well.

If you want to listen a frantic concert where people shouts and joins the band, don't bother, but if you want a rare testimony of Focus calmed style on stage, then give this one a go.

Review 2

(by George Starostin)

The obligatory live album from the band which is - hear! hear! - not a double one. Now isn't that kinda cute? After a sprawling, extensive, superfluous double studio album, to release just one tiny little LP of live material? This was an epoch when you were looked at askance if you only released a single LP worth of live material, but I guess this was just another 'focus' for the band. And at an era, too, when Focus arguably reached the peak of their popularity, with fans raving about the guitar abilities of Jan Akkerman and all.

How good is the album? It's good. It's also a total disappointment for me, because the entire first side is dedicated to a note-for-note-perfect (with just a few minor changes) recreation of the 'Focus III/Answers? Questions!' suite/jam from the last album, and I never liked it that much. The band's real weakness is in that they were so inventive, improvisational and creative in the studio, there was very little left for them in a live setting. Akkerman's funky guitar flies around like mad and Thijs van Leer's organ is prominent and energetic, but as a rationally minded homo sapiens I see no positive reason for anybody to get interested in these carbon copy recreations so as to waste their money. (Okay, so I did waste my money, but how was I to know I needn't have wasted it before I actually wasted it? Plus, wait a bit, the review isn't over yet). Anyway, there's just nothing particularly special about the first side.

Bert Ruiter

Likewise, I'm not a huge fan of 'Focus II' and 'Eruption' - more of the band's early fusion standards that, when placed in this here context, don't sound radically different from 'Focus III' and 'Answers? Questions!' (Except that 'Eruption' has been drastically shortened - not that it's done it any good). As usual, it all works as decent background music, but has pretty much a totally null level of resonance and sensitivity. In fact, the soft parts of 'Eruption' are mostly there to lull you to sleep...

The whole fun really kicks off only by the beginning of the last fourteen minutes. This live version of 'Hocus Pocus' is easily the definite version of the Focus classic, faster and crazier than the original, with Akkerman's lightning-speed metallic riffage precise and immaculate and van Leer's yodelling as hilarious as ever and more than that - check out the particularly lengthy yodelling exercise in the middle of the song which causes the audience to burst into a smattering of applause. However, perhaps the most beautiful part of the tune is the conclusion, when the band members are introduced one by one by van Leer in more or less the same yodelling style, with him hauntingly chanting out the members' names and duties one at a time. This is really fun.


After that as an encore the band launches into 'Sylvia', which is - don't brand me as a sellout, please - definitely Focus' best number after 'Hocus Pocus', and truly deserved to be a hit single. But alas, it is done really close to the original as well, and then the album closes with one more short reprise of 'Hocus Pocus' - whatever for? Definitely, this is one of the most stupidly concocted live albums I've ever heard. Too bad: a good, prolific band like Focus could have surely deserved a better track listing and a more suitable running time, but then again, most sources I've read tell this was a more or less adequate 'summary' of their contemporary live shows, so maybe I'm asking for too much.

And since this review turned out so relatively short, let me just say a couple general things about prog live albums to sum it up. While the most common statement is that all those mighty live albums released by Yes, ELP, Genesis, etc., in the early Seventies, served one essential purpose (to demonstrate that the band had the ability to pull off their complex music when playing live), it is, in fact, somewhat more complex than that. Those bands who still had a thick 'rock' background somewhere inside their guts, like Yes, for instance, were still trying to remember the basic live rule - a live album should sound more energetic than its studio counterpart - and revved up the adrenaline level. Others, like Genesis, tried to theatralize the proceedings to the max (too bad Genesis' own live album didn't really manage to satisfy that purpose); still others, like ELP, used the live platform to really show off their playing skills in a way that couldn't have been appreciated on the studio albums, throwing on additional improvisations and stuff; finally, sometimes bands used something really different, like Procol Harum with their symphonic orchestra live album, and so on.

Pierre van der Linden

In other words, you can't just use the same identical pattern to take and apply it to everybody; people have their different reasons for doing different things. However, for Live At The Rainbow I really can't find any particular 'additional purpose'. It doesn't rock harder than the studio albums, apart from maybe 'Hocus Pocus'; it ain't theatrical because there are next to no vocals; it ain't showing off any more than van Leer and Akkerman already were in the studio. No unpredictable songs, no unpredictable sounds. What's there to make of it? I dunno. It's just solid live performing.

This post consists of FLACs ripped from my treasured vinyl which, although played many, many times; has been well looked after. No crackles or pops, just great quality progressive rock and yodels. I love this album to death and admire the fact that these four guys could reproduce everything they did in the studio, and in some cases better, when playing live. 

Of course full album artwork is included (plus alternative covers like the one on the left) along with label scans. The other thing I like about this album is the triple fold cover and artwork, and copies in good condition fetch good money on ebay.

Tracklist
A1 Focus III 3:53
A2 Answers? Questions! Questions?
Answers! 11:37
A3 Focus II 4:22
Eruption (Excerpt) 8:44
B1.I Orfeus
B1.II Answer
B1.III Orfeus
B1.IV Answer
B1.V Pupilla
B1.VI Tommy
B1.VII Pupilla
B2 Hocus Pocus 8:30
B3 Sylvia 2:48
B4 Hocus Pocus (Reprise) 2:49

Vocals, Organ, Flute – Thijs van Leer
Drums – Pierre van der Linden
Guitar – Jan Akkerman
Vocals, Bass Guitar – Bert Ruiter


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