Sophia - Mar. 27 ’04: Tivoli, Utrecht (NL), with Lawn

Review 1
The last winter’s night of the year…
“toeval bestaat niet…genade wel’ (“there’s no such thing as coincidence, just mercy”)

So. Here I am. After nearly four years, my (long distance) relationship is
over. Take it from me, faithful Sophia lovers out there, absence does not make
the heart grow fonder. In time, it builds itself a wall, an impenetrable
fortress, to stave off the longing, the aching, the frustration, and eventually
this wall caves in, which would crush the withered heart had it not already
been reduced to a hollow parody of its former self, a husk, ashes and tears.
Such a sad waste, when there is so much to love, to live…

So. There I was. After nearly four years, my (long distance) relationship was
over. And Sophia is about to take the stage. Can you imagine a more blessed
thing? Better timing? Me, neither.

But imagine my surprise, my sheer delight, this is a new Sophia. This is not
just fragile, melancholy tales of heartbreak, loss, betrayal and permanent

After an inspired, varied and enthusiastic opening courtesy of Lawn, here we
have Sophia. I had grown so accustomed to seeing just Robin & Will, and at
times the strings, it was kind of funny to suddenly have a ‘real’ band. Funny
soon turned to brilliant, of course, as they started with ‘So Slow,’ introduced
by Robin’s cautious but heart-felt declaration that he wrote it after Jimmy’s
death, and how it helped him realize “that I needed music in my life.” It was a
stirring version, I was really amazed to hear the huge warmth that was created
by not only his vibe, which was incredibly happy and enthused, and the band.

Speaking of happy, next we went to ‘Happy Now’. My heart just broke as I sang
along to, ‘has the last year really been….as bad as that?’

Robin was extremely sociable and he had started the night by saying he was in
such a great mood we might just get the comedy hour, with jokes between each
song, although he quickly added that he only had one joke, and despite the
audience’s prodding decided that he’d save it for the encore. He also warned
that his mood could change at the drop of a hat, turning sour, mean and grumpy.
Much laughter. A wicked gleam in his eye and wry grin on his face.

Meanwhile, an equally chatty guy in the crowd responded to his next
announcement, which had to do with his daughter, Hope, by yelling ‘how old is
she now, 4?’ and a stunned Robin was like, “no! she’s SEVEN!” and this kicked
off a hilarious repartee about Hope, and “she’s switched schools now, yes,
she’s in a different school…’ and then, obviously in the mood to talk, but more
in the mood to play, he succinctly put an end to the lengthy banter by saying
this was better left to post-show chitchat, and added, ‘this song is about her
mother..’ yes: ‘If Only.’ It didn’t meander, it was up front, dynamic, and
surging. It was beautiful, one of the finest versions I’ve ever heard, and,
well, to be modest, I’ve seen a lot of Sophia shows. I could already tell by
now, just three songs into it, this was one hell of a night, this was one
amazingly turned on gig.

Then it was time for some new songs. I, for one, could hardly wait! Robin
mentioned that someone from the label was roaming around in the club (the
former Vloer is now ‘Tivoli de helling’; my first time there, a bit of a puzzle
finding the place, despite the bike paths and directions on the Tivoli website,
it was on the wrong/right side of the tracks, in a shadowy industrial park. The
staff and audience were great) so he might as well play something from PALS
lest he get in big trouble. So it was time for ‘Fool’, which is actually such a
sweet song, it’s really one of the watersheds in his career as a songwriter,
focusing inward on himself, not circumstances or others, the man has grown so
much, it’s really uplifting and I can definitely relate. Getting older and
wiser… “Hey girl, listen, don’t beat yourself up,” I sang to myself.

Next was another PALS gem, ‘Swept Back’, Just focus on the light. Just focus on
the light. I was, believe me, I was. His voice was in such good form, and Will
was amazing as always, but it was also so intriguing to see what the other
instruments—but not strings—could do with the songs. The sound was so rich, so
expansive, and so passionate.

Oh lordy, time for the earplugs, “the mogwai song”….! Yes, ‘Desert Song #2”,
coming to a terrific crescendo, I actually thought this one would be saved for
the end, I was surprised at first to find it here but it fit in perfectly,
really exploding, injecting this mad chaotic vibe, a sort of sonic muscle flex,
like: okay, you know that we are melodic and moving, but look out, we also have
teeth! And we’re hungry! The clashing notes and flickering washed out blue
lights made for quite a psychedelic spectacle. Gorgeous.

Robin shared with us his thoughts about a particular guitar, an old gal of a
guitar, who obviously still has a fair share of gumption, but when he tried to
use her after what he enthusiastically proclaimed was a great performance he
gave up and ended up throwing her back in the old instrument’s home. Then,
trying to pluck out the beginning of ‘Everyday’ he announced that although he’s
very happy with dave, his all-round indispensable tour helper, who handles
everything from backup keyboards to selling merch and all in between, ‘he can’t
tune a guitar!’ At which point drummer Jeff mutters, and not all was audible so
I’ll give you my impression, ‘mwrrrh mwrrrrh mrrwwwwhhh sounds like shite!’
well, guitar logistics were sorted out soon enough and, take 2,
it’s ‘Everyday’. Again, I really took notice of the upbeat and vital new
versions we were hearing of such ‘classics’, what a treat. Speaking of guitars,
nearly everyone reviewing the gigs this tour has mentioned how adam adds
something really special and I can only agree. Superb.

THEN, waaaaaaaah “Oh My Love”….in Robin’s enthused words, ‘Utrecht! You ROCK!’
according to him, this was the first time in seven weeks of touring that there
was dancing. Yes, I’ll tell you right now, there was no way I could keep still
during this, it was awesome, and others obviously felt the same. You better
believe we were rocking! I loved hearing this song the first time, as many a
review and fan have said, goddamn, the chorus sinks its hooks into you from the
get go, no escape, and that’s true, and live, “Oh My God”! it was heavy and
powerful and huge!!!!!

After the sweaty frenzy of Oh My Love things got taken down a notch, shifting
into ‘Within without’. At first I was a little disappointed, I mean, the
energy levels on stage and on the floor were shooting through the ceiling, into
the stratosphere, do we have to take a breather, can’t we keep going mad? But
it worked, it really worked. ‘Within without’ took this unexpected turn for
the heavy, wow, the ceiling was in ruins, I was well beyond the point of
returning to Earth any time soon.

‘Woman’…this song could fall prey to dragging in parts, but not tonight, oh
no. again, robin was in amazing form vocally, the fragility never turning
weak, the power never becoming tuneless, his timing and intonation were so so
so spot on, no I’m serious. You could tell, he was having an amazing night.

Ahhhhhhh, time for ‘The Sea’, which brought up some unexpected imagery for me,
I listened to ‘de nachten’ a lot during a time I was taking the train from
Amsterdam to Cologne every month, this was before the new high-speed ICE
connection was in place. The route meanders along the Rhine, tree-covered
slopes on one side, elegant castles in amongst vineyards dotting the other,
sunshine…I remembered sitting in the train, leaning my head against the
window, ‘de nachten’ on my walkman, gazing out at the scenery, either filled
with joyful anticipation, or sated with glowing euphoria, and then suddenly my
thoughts turned to the North Sea coast in December, breakers leaving patches of
dingy yellow foam behind, the biting wind, the cruel grey green water. The
contrast between raw pleas to ‘come…to the sea…my darling’ and the bare
whisper, ‘…of our world…’ oh my god this is so beautiful.

Meanwhile we knew that this was the ‘last’ song, but Robin assured us that they
would just go off stage, pretend to be done with it, and return immediately.
And they did. Thank you!

Our encores started with the long-awaited joke, which as Robin explained he
learned during a bus ride with Hope. He chose the fellow in the crowd who had
demonstrated such an interest in his family, and started by asking, ‘what’s
your favorite color?’ (‘red!’) ‘what’s your favorite animal?’ (‘cat!’ –cool
guy, by the way, rock on, cat people) ‘what’s your favorite food?’
(‘meat!’) ‘Meat?! That’s not a food, well, I mean, like, meat what, steak? Or
like…’ (hesitation on the part of the audience member) ‘oh, just pick something
you know like “pizza”!’ (‘ok! Pizza!’) ‘well,’ Robin drawls, ‘I’ve never met a
red cat that likes pizza!’ silence. Visibly pleased with himself and
recollecting many an amusing moment with his daughter he hastened to
explain, ‘well, I told Hope, “Umm, you know, that’s not, uh, that’s not really
all that funny…” to which she replied, “Yeah, Dad! I know—but everyone at
school laughs when I tell it!!!”’ how beautiful is that? It’s enough to make
you want to have children…

After the laughing and confused faces accompanied by a bit of embarrassed
shrugging (‘ik begreep het ook nie, hoor!’) had subsided they played ‘Ship in
the Sand,’ another example of the poetic, straight from the heart wrestling a
soul struggling to figure out just what the hell this life is all about goes
through, the self-castigating claim that ‘no, I’ve never been very good at

Of course there was ‘The River’, oh yes, what would a bonafide stunningly
brilliant Sophia show be without going to the river? I was worried beforehand
that it would be during this particular song I would lose it and just break
down completely but you know what, by now I had so much positive mad good
energy coursing through my veins and cells and every nerve ending that I
couldn’t even think of it that way, as a desperate plea or bitter farewell;
instead, it sounded like a determined call to arms, to get back on track, to go
on, no matter what. Massive.

Now are you ready for this? Are you ready for this?! All amps on 11, people,
cuz life’s a BITCH, and then you DIE!!!!!!!!

A PIT broke out during ‘If A Change is Gonna Come’, a pit, I tell you!!! Okay,
okay, not compared to a real hardcore show, of course, but there were some
folks slammin’ and I thought that was just about one of the best damn things
I’ve ever witnessed at a show, at a Sophia show, that is!!!! Oh man, I was
jumping up and down and bellowing along, it was so totally cathartic, viva la
robin’s newfound philosophy, it tapped right into the center of what I for sure
have been feeling lately, when it all comes down to it why not throw in yet
another bumper sticker philosophy: “don’t sweat the small stuff (ps: it’s all
small stuff)”…cuz life’s a bitch, yeah, and then you die…yes indeed—I mean,
come on! what more do you want?!

Okay, secretly, well, not really, because I mentioned it to the powers that be,
one of them at least, secretly oh yes please please please please come back
out, just you and your acoustic guitar robin, please sing ‘Another Trauma’,
perhaps, if I had to choose, my favorite on the new record, and right up there
among all-time favorites, please would you please please please….but no, the
show had come to a close, there would be no more. Yes, for a moment I was so
distraught, you can’t leave, not now, you are all so ON, it would be such a
pity to call it a night….why! of course there are other things going on, the
club has to get ready for the Saturday night disco, dammit! Damn you,
swingavond, damn you, hahahahahahah!!!

But you know what, a few seconds later my pang of ‘oh no, I’m not going to get
to hear it live…’ went away, and was immediately replaced by pure and utter

This was without a doubt one of the best Sophia shows I have ever seen. Thank
you so much, lovely audience, for respecting the music and being so attentive
and receptive and enthusiastic, and well, of course, thank you, Sophia. Your
music has such power to support and comfort and heal.
It truly does.

Review 2
Results may vary. Sophia proved that tonight. One day after their disappointing gig in Haarlem's Patronaat, of which I won't even bother to write a review, they played an absolutely high standard set in
Utrecht's Tivoli. From one extreme to another, you might say, with almost the same setlist.
Contrary to yesterday's performance, everything felt right tonight. The sound was great, the audience was excellent and one could clearly notice how much the band enjoyed these fine surroundings.
It all seemed to connect and Robin thanked the audience for their commitment, several times. For the first time during this tour people were dancing continueously to Robin's music, which brought him noticable pleasure.
The dancing finally ended in a pogo movement during 'If a change is gonna come'.
Afterwards Robin stated that this was probably the best night so far... "Utrecht, you've been fucking great..."
maRz for

Review 3
When Job, guitarist of ‘Lawn’, asks the audience to be quiet because, you know, it’s a quiet song, he does so with the confidence of a seasoned performer. Not the kind of thing you expect from a support act in a tiny club. Not in front of a crowd that’s already shown considerable acceptance of the band eventhough they’re there to see the main act ‘Sophia’. I’m impressed.

A lot of people around us are dressed in dark red colours. We can’t figure out why. Perhaps it’s some thing fans of bands do, some quirk like The Mission fans who called themselves ‘Eskimos’ or the early online community of U2 fans who took to wearing tags with the name of their mailing list written on it.

Or it could be they’re dressed in red to go along with the Fire-engine themed ‘disco’ that’s planned after the gig.

I didn’t know ‘Sophia’, but I knew their predecessor, noise-mongers the God Machine. They had impressed me as a young band, having made the decision to live and record in London rather than stay in their native America. I remember that the death of their bassist came unexpected and that I felt so sorry at a time that a band that had seemed so promising would meet such ill fate.

Robin Proper-Sheppard, the God Machine and Sophia’s front-man, nearly gave up music after his friend died, but in the end decided he could not live without it. He looks like a young David Brent with a little Sean Penn on the side. When he’s on stage pre-show to set up, some girls, fans, comment “Oh there he is!”, adding with a certain air of disappointment, “He’s not even wearing performance clothes…”

Sheppard dresses to impress your mother and if he’s hoping to do it in the rather affected or arty way Interpol seem to do it, he’s failing. His songs, his lyrics lack that same irony. They’re just completely mundane, the kind of thoughts you and I have, without even a hint of poetry or vision. And that’s their appeal, despite the lack of joy and their utter self-indulgence. It’s unassuming, just like his rapport with his audience. But this ‘one of the guys’ persona is an act, because you can just feel the screaming diva inside him when he orders the lighting tech to keep the bright lights out of his face. Perhaps it’s that undercurrent, controlled rage, that keeps it interesting.

Right at the start he mentions that his daughter, ‘Hope’, is 10 years old. A fan says: ‘Last time she was 4, has it been that long?’ A conversation ensues, but Sheppard cuts it short: “You know, I like this conversation, but maybe we should have it… after… I know I have this kind of relationship with my fans, but…”

He promises to tell a joke his daughter taught him and then continues to sing a - depressing - song about ‘her mother’. All through the gig people keep reminding him to tell the joke, which he does eventually. He asks a guy in the front:

“What’s your favourite colour?’

“Red,” the guy says, pointing at his shirt.

“What’s your favourite animal?”


“What’s your favourite food?”

“Mie!” says the guy, which sounds like ‘me’. He means ‘noodles’, proving once again that no, the average Dutch person doesn’t speak English as well as is generally thought. It confuses Sheppard, who tells him he’s supposed to name a food product.


“Well, have you ever heard of a red cat that eats pizza?” It’s not that funny and Sheppard agrees, but when he told his daughter this she had answered: “I know, but all the kids at school think it’s funny.”

In the meantime, my friend — sharper than most — leans in and says: “A red cat that loves pizza? Um… Garfield?”

I shouldn’t like this band at all, with its wishy washy music that is never completely out there and never completely original. It meanders between all kinds of genres, with a warm organ sound straight out of REM’s cookbook, the country influences of Neil Young, the fire and brimstone melodies of Nick Cave, the Britpop streak completely stripped of all irony and the echoes of their own God Machine past.

I shouldn’t like it at all, but I do. Their ‘from a whisper to a wall of sound’ gimmick should be annoying, but it’s not. Like their support act ‘Lawn’, who I should like even less, Sheppard and his band have a wonderful knack of writing melody lines that please and surprise. They’re just annoyingly engaging. Like Crowded House, another band I only grudgingly appreciate, I’ll have to admit they were good.

Review 4
Zoals ik vaker impulsief handel, zo deed ik dat ook door het bestellen van een kaartje voor Sophia in Tivoli de Helling. Nadat een vriend een slaapplaats in Utrecht had geregeld, was het live aanschouwen van Sophia alleen nog maar een formaliteit.
Toch bekroop mij een angstgevoel nadat ik het kaartje had besteld. Zo hoorde ik van bepaalde bronnen dat ze live niet zo goed waren als op cd. Maar op de dag zelf kreeg ik een goed gevoel…

Omdat het eten van tevoren een beetje uitliep en Tivoli de Helling niet de gewone Tivoli is, komen we halverwege de supportact uit, jawel, Groningen, binnendruppelen. Een paar leuke jongens die een hoop herrie maken met die gitaren van ze. Ze kunnen echter de zaal wel stil krijgen bij een rustig nummer van ze. Wie weet tot de volgende keer jongens…

En dan… een droomstart... geen geweldig hard intro of iets in die trant, maar een ontspannen Robin Sheppard, die verteld dat ze gisteren niet zo goed gespeeld hadden en dat vandaag willen goedmaken. Vervolgens vraagt hij nog of we Sophia wel kennen. Wat natuurlijk wordt beantwoord met veel gejuich! Als traktatie belooft hij voor elk nummer een grapje vertellen.

Wanneer het gelul en de kroegpraat met het publiek ophoudt, beginnen de mannen van Sophia met het sterke So Slow van hun eerste album. Gelijk wordt mij duidelijk dat het niet om zomaar een gemiddeld bandje gaat. Ze staan er zeer professioneel en het geluid is prima! De zang komt perfect uit de verf en wordt niet weggevaagd door de muziek. Na afloop van het eerste nummer vraagt iemand uit het publiek naar de beloofde grapjes, waarna Robin toegeeft maar één grapje te kennen en hij er nog even mee wacht. Vervolgens spelen ze nog twee tracks van hun eerste album waarna ze beginnen aan een aantal liedjes van hun laatste album People Are Like Seasons, wat ingeleid wordt met het prachtige Fool, waarna misschien wel het sterkste nummer van de laatste plaat wordt aankondigt: Swept Back. Robin baalde ervan dat ze het nummer een dag eerder niet hadden gespeeld, dus vandaag móest het nummer gespeeld worden. Met dit nummer heb ik zelf ook een speciaal gevoel, het heeft me geholpen door de ziekenhuisdagen te rollen, vandaar een hoop kippenvel. Sophia vervolgde met Desert Song no. 2, een ijzersterk nummer van bijna acht minuten! Tijdens dit nummer wisselt Robin zijn akoestische gitaar om met zijn oude elektrische gitaar waarna het nummer een flinke boost krijgt. Hij wil nog wel even doorspelen met zijn “oude geliefde” maar besluit toch dat het niet lekker klinkt. Uit de zaal klinken dan teleurstellende stemmen: “Rock On!”. Maar met die akoestische gitaar valt ook heus wel te rocken! Ze keren terug naar de oudere nummers als every day, woman en ook Are You Happy Now wordt weer met gevoel gebracht. Op Oh My Love gaat het publiek stevig tekeer en wordt er voor het eerst vrolijk gedanst. “a dancing song” aldus Sheppard, en voor t eerst in Europa wordt er zo op dat nummer gereageerd, en terecht!

Het grapje dat Robin eindelijk verteld heeft hij van zijn dochter. Verder niet bijzonder maar hij communiceert weer geweldig met het publiek! Vervolgens zegt hij dat ze nu het laatste nummer gaan spelen. De zaal uiteraard: “aaaaaah”. Maar geruststellend heeft hij weer wat te zeggen en meld dat ze uiteraard terugkomen om nog meer nummers te spelen. Na een korte pauze waarin de zaal prettig veel applaudisseert, vervolgt Sophia nog met drie stevige rocksongs. Met als afsluiter If A Change Is Gonna Come... kwam er een zeer goed einde aan de avond. Het laatste beetje overgebleven kan je goed kwijt in dit nummer, heerlijk!

Kortom, een prachtige avond, en blij verrast door Sophia. Ze speelden deze avond heel constant. Het charisma en de humor van voorman Robin Sheppard is zeker de moeite waard om eens live te aanschouwen.

Na het lezen nog geïnteresseerd in deze band? Gelukkig komen ze 9 mei a.s. nog een keer naar Nederland, dan spelen ze in Vera, Groningen.

Review 5
Soms zijn er van die momenten dat alles samenvalt. Ook op het gebied van muziek. Goed, het mogen dan misschien spaarzame momenten zijn, maar ze zijn er. En of bepaalde muziek je nu gigantisch opzweept, ophitst of opbeurt, doet daarbij eigenlijk maar verdacht weinig ter zake. Waar het om gaat, is dat de muziek impact heeft. En -of het nou fysiek is of geestelijk- iets met je doet. Punt. Neen, nog beter: 'amen'.

Muziek dus. Een absolute prachtuitvinding. Voorwaar: eentje van het verslavende, allesomvattende soort; hier en daar zelfs opgesmukt met een welhaast mystiek sausje.
Maar goed: genoeg gezweef. Voor vandaag althans. Want, om maar meteen tot de kern van de zaak te komen: hoevaak een mens (plak er in dit geval gerust nog de letters 'ch' aan vast) in zijn leven ook blootgesteld mag worden aan de edele muziekkunst, en welke gevoelens dit bij hem ook moge oproepen, er zijn maar weinig momenten waarop hij zich ook waarlijk geroerd voelt.

En laat vanavond nu precies zo'n moment geweest zijn.

Een moment waar uw recensent, om eerlijk te zijn, al maandenlang naar had uitgekeken. Watheet: jarenlang! Want het heeft al die tijd op zijn netvlies gebrand gestaan. Het concert van de Britse band Sophia in de Groninger poptempel Vera. Vrijdag 17 april 1999 was de avond, om precies te zijn. Een dag waarop de essentie van het fenomeen 'live-concert' zich nog eens aan ondergetekende openbaarde. Want het moge gezegd: wat werd hij toen bij de keel gegrepen. En wat stond hij aan de grond genageld. Tranen biggelden over zijn wangen. Tranen van ontroering. Tranen van schoonheid. Het was een avond waarop het aloude besef nog eens goed tot hem doordrong: geen mooiere muziek dan trieste muziek.

En hoeveel concerten hij sinds die bewuste dag ook gezien heeft, er zaten er maar weinig bij die dat specifieke gevoel bij me losmaakten. Dat gevoel van pure schoonheid. Van ontroering. En aan de grond genageld zijn.

Dat hij voor mijn volgende Sophia-ervaring dan ook behoorlijk gespannen was, laat zich dan ook makkelijk verklaren. Want ja, zou hij het, vijf jaar later in een uitverkochte(!) Helling, nog altijd over zich hebben, voorman Robin Proper-Sheppard? Die gave om een mens tot in het diepst van zijn ziel te ontroeren? Het antwoord kwam al in de eerste minuut van het concert naar boven drijven: nou en of!

Met stijlvolle tred komt Proper-Sheppard het podium van De Helling opgewandeld. Met in zijn kielzog zijn -gedurende het verdere optreden geheel anonieme blijvende- groepsleden. Stijlvol staat hij daar, in zwart pak. Vijf jaar ouder en (zou het toch dat artistieke snorretje zijn?) nauwelijks herkenbaar. Het optreden in Haarlem, de avond ervoor, was volgens hem een totaal drama. En dat moest anders vandaag. En daar zou hij zijn uiterste best voor doen.

En dat het de voormalig frontman van de magistrale God Machine daarbij ook bijzonder menens is, blijkt meteen al in de eerste minuut van de show. Even goedgemutst als geconcentreerd zuigt hij middels enkele bedachtzame, licht-humoristische opmerkingen meteen bij opkomst al de aandacht voor zich op. Om die vervolgens in zijn muziek geen seconde te laten verslappen. Het eerste nummer -het onsterfelijk mooie, aan zijn overleden God Machine-maatje Jimmy Fernandez opgedragen 'So Slow'- gaat meteen al dwars door je heen. Het mes staat op mijn keel. Zelfs mijn benen hebben kippenvel.

En dat gevoel houdt de rest van het concert aan. En of het nu oud ('If Only', 'The Sea' en een majestueus 'The River Song') of nieuw ('Oh My Love', 'Swept Back', 'Desert Song No.2') betreft, het brok verdwijnt geen seconde uit je keel. Het fabelachtige geluid en de sublieme overgangen -van muisstille sereniteit naar werveldende noise-explosies in een fractie van een seconde, een truc die voorheen allen aan een band als Mogwai leek voorbehouden- maken de wonderlijke roes compleet. En als Proper-Sheppard in de keiharde toegift 'A Change Is Gonna Come' ook nog eens alle God Machine-registers opengooit, moge het helemaal duidelijk zijn: Sophia is in al die jaren eigenlijk alleen nog maar gegroeid. Een wonderlijke gedachte, die misschien wel te mooi is om waar te zijn.
Peter Bijl, VPRO 3voor12 Utrecht

Set list
so slow
happy now
if only
swept back
desert song 2
oh my love
within without
the sea
ship in the sand
river song
if a change is gonna come…