Focus 21 at the Howlin’ Wolf

written by seth

It was a warm, muggy Saturday evening and I had been invited to the Focus 21 show at the Howlin Wolf and my name was featured on the guest list. They were opening up for local 80’s-era rock act Zebra, whom to my surprise still draws a serious crowd. Focus 21, a premiere instrumental rock act from the Metairie/Kenner area, was happy to be chosen to play this opportune show. When I showed up and stood in line, I was a virtual sore thumb on a hand of old, sleeveless shirted fingers.

Once inside, I found out that the air conditioner had broken that day. Bummer. I was hoping that once Zebra took stage, I would sweat from the rock alone. But alas, it was a virtual sauna, and the growing crowd of daiquiri shop regulars and out of work car mechanics continually added to the warmth.

Focus 21's Latest Album

Around 10:15, Focus 21 took the stage. They were playing for about half of the end result crowd. There were a good amount of people already settled in, but the line outside was growing still. As the first riff was played, there were, I would say, about 200 patrons looking on as Focus 21 began their 9 or 10 song set. The first song garnered a pretty warm response. It was evident that they were put at ease. The second song displayed their true talent of every instrument seemingly playing a different song but coming together in one united sonic attack. Sporadic comments indicated that the crowd was reminded of Rush. A man in the front row sharply insisted that the drummer (Jason Caldarera) was ‘the man’. Jason assured him that he was not ‘the man’ and that the loud, drunk man himself was in fact ‘the man.’ The man continued to argue and pursue his agenda so the band decided to play on. With each song, the band got more and more over with the crowd. I would guess that everyone in the building was thoroughly impressed and enjoying themselves. The sound was impeccable, and, in contradiction to the guitarist’s (Ben Buisson) own words, not a mistake was noticed. One grossly overweight woman voiced her negative opinion by blurting out (what she thought was to herself, but she was drunk and loud) "what is this bullshit? Why don’t they sing a fuckin’ song?" She proved her lack of worth to me right then and there so I jabbed my knife into her ample gut and watched her entrails slap to the floor. Actually, that never happened, but damn, it should've. As the set was wrapped up, I made sure I got a final mullet count. I saw some really good ones, and one that particularly stood out was one that wasn’t quite grown out. The top was nice and short, but the back was just about to achieve full ‘contrasting longevity’. I called "mid-mullet birth." One might say his head was in "mullet labor." Ok, I’ll stop. I for one was very impressed with how far Focus 21 has come with their music. They recently had a change in line-up when Tom Grimes left the band and they acquired Frog, formerly of Self-titled, to fill in for 4-string duty. Incidentally, Frog plays a 5-string bass, so strike that last statement from the record. Their once groove oriented, heavy deftones meets helmet meets hum sound has nicely progressed into a healthy mixture of modern Sunny Day Real Estate songwriting style with the technical tempo changing and foot-tap defying time signatures of yes, Rush. Ok, I’ll be fair. They had more of a Yes sound to me, but I guess the mullets had spoken. Rush it is. Despite all of the roots and influences that showed through, Ben and company have achieved not only their own sound, but also a refreshingly original and individual standout sound very rarely (if never) heard in the New Orleans area. Oh, and before Zebra took stage, the mullet count was at around 7...and then I looked up to see Zebra’s bassist had the MOST BEAUTIFUL mullet I had seen in recent weeks. Wow. It was really perfect. That’s the only I can put it. Really perfect.

Having grown up around the sounds of Zebra from my brother’s blaring stereos, I recognized, well most of the songs. I managed to hear "As I said before," which is pretty novel because not only was that one of their big radio hits, the song is also around 20 years old. I regretfully left after five songs were played because the heat was way too intense and I had prior promises to fulfill, cause I’m such a nice, upstanding young man.

Overall, I give the show 4 out of 5.....devil horns. Yeah. Peace.

Focus 21 on

Howling Wolf Dot Com

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written by seth
copyright coffeeam 2001