Sophia - Mar. 30 04: Islington Academy, London (UK), with M. Craft

Review 1
I had a choice tonight. Envy, an apocalyptic Japanese post-rock ensemble or Sophia the downbeat, melancholic guitar band of ex-God Machine frontman Robin Proper-Sheppard. I'm really glad I chose the latter - no amount of screaming and tortured-guitar histrionics would have been able to compete with the emotional intensity of the 15 songs Sophia play tonight.
Probably everyone present tonight knows of the trauma that befell The God Machine and the subsequent break up, and it is undoubtedly this bad fortune that lends much of the gravitas to Sophia's music. 1997's "Fixed Water", the first release following the death of Robin's friend and God Machine bass player, Jimmy Hernandez, set out the blueprint of repeated vocal refrains and delicate guitar rock. Every subsequent record has buit on this sound culminating in the recent "People Are Like Seasons", possibly the most rounded release so far.
But tonight they go back to that first album, opening with "So Slow", the first Sophia song, written in the months immediately after the demise of the God Machine. It's country-tinged, acoustic guitar and piano melancholia sets the tone for the first part of the set, and during the next few songs it becomes increasingly apparent just what a stroke of genius it is including Adam Franklin in the band's line-up. The ex-Swervedriver frontman's lead guitar adds a rich, warm layer under which the songs luxuriate.
"Desert Song 2", a nod to the original God Machine song and the most epic on the new album, is the first track tonight that showcases Sophia's tougher edges. It builds from a gentle start, at times just vocals and piano, until, with Robin singing "Just let yousrelf go..." the swelling tide of guitars breaks. Then, a beautiful, hypnotic piano and strummed acoustic guitar begin the second build towards a massive climax of heavy, churning riffs. It's stunning.
Whilst not the most dynamic frontman Robin Proper-Sheppard effortlessly captivates, his voice and lyrics complementing the music brilliantly, his onstage demeanour intense, yet inclusive. It's the honest, emotional content of Sophia's songs that enable the audience to connect.
"I know you want The River song, but I'm not playing it" RPS jokes at the beginning of the encore, before playing the gorgeous "I Left You". Tonight is the first time I've heard the epic "The River Song" and as it begins it's obviously an audience favourite. From and acoustic into, It grows and grows until with three guitars churning away, one being played with a violin bow, it collapses and we are plunged into silence.
Immediately, they charge into straightforward rocker "If A Change Is Gonna Come" with it's distorted, screamy vocals and superfuzzed guitars testing the PA to it's limit. It's not a subtle track and perhaps not the best to end on, but it proves that Sophia can do the punky/rock thing as well as anyone else.
RPS has come along way since the God Machine, both emotionally and musically. I suspect it's because of this journey that Sophia is far and away the superior band - I never thought I'd say that.
Richard Parsons, www.mymusicyear.co.uk


Review 2
Quite an eclectic crowd filled up the Islington Academy to welcome a relaxed looking Sophia on to the stage. After encouraging the audience to applaud loudly and not be "quiet like little mice", Robin began the show sedately with So Slow, which, together with the following few songs gave little indication to Sophia neophytes of the sonic storm that would be unleashed later. Although the initial mix wasn't as good as it was at the Bush Hall late last year, the band were clearly at the top of their game after months of touring, and I can’t imagine there being an un-moved soul in the room by the time Fool and Swept Back had finished.

Desert Song No 2, of course, is where things started getting a little…loud. They seemed to be really pushing the limits of the Academy's P.A. and, despite Adam Franklin experiencing some technical difficulties, the results were awe-inspiring. Together with a storming Oh My Love, another high point was provided by The Sea, which was so beautifully rendered by the band that I forgot completely about the lack of string section. It was charmingly introduced by Robin with an account of how, when he was writing it, his daughter was trying to get him to take her to the park. He explained to her that he was in the middle of writing what he thought would be a great song, but she apparently wasn't that impressed, and responded by accusing all his songs of sounding the same anyway and being "slow and sad".

The whole sweep of the set was a masterful exercise in slow-burning crescendo, and by the time The River Song found its locked and relentless groove, the audience had well and truly been bludgeoned into submission by the savage beauty of Sophia's music. In fact, as I'm writing this the next morning, the hearing in my right ear has still gone a little and my head seems a bit out of whack (and I'm used to seeing loud bands!). If A Change Is Gonna Come sealed the deal and as the band left the stage I got a sense of Sophia well and truly winning the hearts and minds of the London audience that Robin's had such a long history of being cantankerous about. In fact, I think this is about the only time I've seen him perform with either The God Machine or Sophia where he hasn't complained about what a bunch of unappreciative f**ks we all are. I don't mean to be over-appreciative, but the show last night was one of the greatest I've seen by anyone.
James Machin


Review 2
Carling Islington Academy. The main room. Sophia take the stage. A few words from inspirational main man Robin Proper-Sheppard and they launch into So Slow. It's extraordinary. Sophia make music that's melodic, melancholic and achingly beautiful. They're one of my absolute favourites.

There they are, onstage. There I am, halfway back in the crowd. What can I hear?

I'll tell you what I can hear.

I can hear the conversation of four or five poncey little poseurs in front of me, jabbering on about pretty much any banality they can think of, it seemed to me. Mainly work (I believe they were all employed in the entertainment industry), but some about absent friends: "She was like 'so', and I was like 'yeah, I know', but he was like BLAH BLAH BLAH."

SHUT UP, DIPSHITS.

Sophia don't tour over here very often, so to see them was a treat. They do quiet. They do quiet very, very well. The problem with this, of course, is that it can be easily ruined by the mindless blathering of idiots in audiences. And 'cool' American bands infrequent London visits are often populated with a high proportion of tossbags, there, it seems, more for the occasion than to see the band. It's bloody annoying.

Tossers.
Oeillade.blogspot.com


Review 3
Al perfetto confine tra tristezza e violenza
Il dolore conosce tutte le strade per arrivare al centro del nostro mondo e non c’e’ nulla di quel che facciamo che lo possa dissuadere: sarà sempre pronto a scivolarci dentro attraverso la vita ed i suoi mille rivoli dormienti.
Forse Robin Proper-Sheppard ha la convinzione del fatto che il suo dolore si sta solo nascondendo alla vista, che e’ pronto a tirarsi fuori dal letargo al minimo cenno di distrazione o vulnerabilità.
Robin sale per primo sul palco. Sistema il suo laptop, corregge l’altezza dell’asta del microfono e sembra non sentire nulla se non il peso del suo stesso sguardo che attraversa la luce fioca delle lampade al neon per correre in ogni angolo del rettangolo a controllarne ogni anfratto.
Questione di minuti ed il resto del gruppo e’ al suo posto – poche parole ed e’ subito la magia di “Fixed Water” a prendere il posto dei silenzi, delle pause; a rompere la noia dell’attesa con una splendida “So Slow” appena rallentata dai colpi sofferti di Jeff Townsin e del suo maledetto tempo inesorabile.
L’impressione che si ricava ad ascoltare i brani dell’ultimo “People Are Like Seasons” in versione live e’ quantomeno migliore di quella malinconia appena sfiorita, soprattutto se paragonata ai lavori precedenti, che pervade l’ultimo full-lenght rendendolo quasi un’opera incompiuta, indefinita e persa tra una voglia di rompere gli schemi e di restare ancorati ad un concetto straniante di sad-core passionale e pulsante.
“Are You Happy Now” e “If Only” chiudono una prima parte del concerto dedicata al passato. Quello che resta e’ quasi esclusivamente il nuovo volto dei Sophia, quell’immagine di malinconia rassegnata ad un ottimismo nervoso che ha sublimato la tristezza nella violenza delle parti quasi stoner (“The Sea”, “If A Change Is Gonna Come”) sviluppando un gusto del tutto inaspettato per i finali infuocati e psichedelici del tutto dolorosi e quasi naif per il loro esporre la rabbia come unico sentimento possibile.

Siamo anni luce lontani dai set solitari di qualche anno fa dove un ragazzo timido spaccava la sei corde per non piangere di solitudine e delusione verso un mondo che gli aveva strappato la volontà, l’amico e la famiglia.
Oggi questo tipo continua a parlare poco e a lasciare che ci si ricordi di lui anche per roba insignificante come “Darkness” o “Holidays Are Nice” e tutto sembra poesia quando sul palco c’e’ una band che non perde tempo, non cerca l’applauso e respira china sugli strumenti più per timidezza che per Dio sa quale altro motivo.
Sarà l’aria dell’Academy per cui ogni suono stasera non scivola più via o forse e’ perché “Every Day” e “Woman” riportano il silenzio nella sala e ci si sente soli all’improvviso, davanti ad uno specchio con le proprie paure, le proprie emozioni tradite, mai dimenticate e solo lontanamente esorcizzate dal caos di “Desert Song No. 2” che, diluita nei tempi, chiude ogni emozione nel buio di un palco che spegne la sua luce, avvolge tutto nel buio ed ingoia ancora una volta il mondo lontano dalla realtà.
Alex Franquelli (kronic.it)


Set list
So Slow
Are You Happy Now
If Only
Fool
Swept Back
Desert Song 2
Every Day
Oh My Love
Within Without
Woman
The Sea
Ship In The Sand
------------------
I
Left You
River Song
If A Change Is Gonna Come


Pic by Alex Franquelli

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk

Pic by Richard Parsons for mymusicyear.co.uk