Sophia (Robin solo + Vito) - Apr. 30 '06: Botanique (Les Nuits Botanique - Rotunde), Brussels (BE), with Vito

Review 1
First things first: Vito were a great support act. This must be one of the best bands Robin has signed to his Flower Shop label. I’ve had a first few listens to their ‘Make good areas disturbed’ album and I can recommend it to anyone. A lazy reviewer might compare them with Mogwai, but they’re much more than that. They’ve got great melodies and they’re with 3 vocalists which leads to great harmonies. The songs evolved from emotional laments to throbbing pieces of raw noise. Which is nice.
Anyway, if you’re going to see Sophia make sure you’re on time to see Vito.
Oh, and they’re really nice chaps too. And it’s NOT their fault that they’re from Wales. ;-)

Vito had barely left the stage when Robin started his part of the evening. And it started with an announcement. The Sophia gigs in Brussels have always been special for Robin, but this time he was actually inches away from cancelling. His voice had been getting worse for a few days now and it totally gave up in Brussels. Robin had been doing voice exercises all day but to no avail. He decided to give it a try anyway and see what happened. He warned the audience that if it really didn’t work out he might leave the stage anyway and reschedule the gig.
To spare his voice he wanted to start off with playing songs from the Fixed Water album. If all worked out he even wanted to do a follow-up to last year’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ gig (where he played the full Infinite Circle album back to front) and play the full Fixed Water album.
So off we went with ‘Is it any wonder’. This sounded very sketchy as Robin hardly had a voice and it nearly copped out several times during the song. But from then on things kept getting better. Was it the hot tea or the hot tea lady? I don’t know, but it worked. He did manage to smuggle some red wine on stage though (“They say it’s good for my voice!”). Old habits… ;-)
So we got treated to the first half of the Fixed Water album: So slow, Are you happy now, Another friend. Robins ‘raw’ voice even seemed to add to the intensity of the songs.
After ‘The death of a salesman’ Robin felt confident enough to take requests from the audience.
First off was ‘Ship in the sand’. After that someone called out for ‘I can't believe the things I can't believe‘. Robin hadn’t played the song in ages and no longer knew the lyrics by heart. So he had to run backstage to collect his little black book in which he had written down the lyrics earlier that day. He did have at little tongue-in-cheek go at yours truly for having a mistake in the song’s lyrics on this site. Which is incidentally also his source if he’s looking for his own lyrics. Oh well. More work for me! :-)
The Fixed Water cycle was then closed with ‘When you’re sad’ and a beautiful ‘Last night I had a dream’. A great track which Robin should play more. He just shouldn’t bring it to a halt in the middle of the song because he thinks his guitar is out of tune. It breaks the magic of the song and frankly I don’t care if the guitar is out of tune when we’re in the middle of the song. I probably don’t hear the difference anyway. :-)
Even if this Fixed Water treatment meant that we didn’t get any solo renditions of some tracks from the PALS album (I’m sure ‘Swept Back’ sounds great) we still got a special evening. Considering Robin was only inches away from cancelling the gig, this turned out as an excellent evening.

But it wasn’t over yet. Vito were called back on stage and they stormed in to mesmerising versions of Desert Song no. 2 and the River Song. Getting Vito to act as his backing band was an excellent idea. And a very Neil Young kind of thing to do. The songs sounded totally different from the versions we’ve heard in the last two years. Vito put their own sound into them and made them sound all new.
Just like during the other dates from this tour, the encores were the playground of the May Queens tracks. It’s great to finally get to hear some of these songs live. My personal highlight was Rollin’. I hadn’t seen Robin scream into the microphone like that since I saw him play with the God Machine 13 years ago. (oh, by the way, I can still use a little bit of help with deciphering the lyrics to Rollin. ;-) )
Wouter Berteloot, 1.05.2006,

Review 2
For a few weeks, The Man had been looking forward to this sort of homecoming concert but lost his voice on the way to Brussels. A mere ten minutes after the final feedback of amazing flowershoppers Vito had left the speakers, Robin came on stage of the ever charming Rotonde, the most cosy room in Brussels' most cosy concert hall. He announced he lost his voice but would nevertheless give it a try. And what a try he gave!? The very quiet (thank you!) crowd beared with him as he was suffering on the first songs. But in a paradoxical way the very fragile voice gave some extra depth to the songs. Analoguous to the Barbican appearance last autumn where Sophia played "The Infinite Circle" from A to Z, Robin offered us his debut album "Fixed Water". From A to K and from L to Z as he took a request from the audience somewhat halfway. Robin warned us Ship In The Sand would probably sound like sh*t (in the sand?), but what we heard was a brilliantly intense version of this "De Nachten" classic. The illness soon made place for funny chats about the rock'n'roll factor of walking on the Pukkelpop stage with a cup of coffee at 10am. Or about mistakes he found in the Fixed Water lyrics section (all apologies, Wouter, pre-2001 mistakes are on my account:) Well, everyone can make mistakes, like referring to Pukkelpop 94 while The God Machine actually played there one year earlier (check the site?).
Concentrating on the first album, re-introducing almost forgotten jewels such as Another Friend or Death Of A Salesman, created some kind of flashback to the early Sophia days. Nice! After finishing 'The Fixed Water job', the five Welshmen of Vito joined Robin for some extra guitar extravaganza. Not really friendly to the 'usual' Sophia Collective (sorry guys!), but this "RPS+Vito" line-up is among the best bits of Sophia we've experienced in the past decade (yep, do you realize the band has been around for almost 10 years now?). Desert Song no. 2 had the most bombastic drums in Sophia history while The River Song ended in a mudflow of guitars ... a bit of Sophia Fear Satan.
After all, a special show. In a positive way:) Diguised as motherfuckers-from-hell, the band returned for two nice extras from the May Queens era. What did we learn tonight: singing is no longer the lowest form of communication (H. Simpson) but the perfect remedy for an aching throat!
Christophe Demunter

Review 3
Op Meiavond, net voordat arbeiders aller landen onder het zingen van "De Internationale" en zwaaiend met rode vlaggen collectief het werk mogen staken, is het aan Sophia-frontman Robin Proper-Sheppard om in de sfeervolle maar piepkleine Rotonde een erg beperkt publiek op sleeptouw te nemen. Een intiem (en grotendeels akoestisch) optreden in de marge van de derde avond van Les Nuits.

Photo by Hendrik Van Hemelryck Opener van dienst is het Engelse Vito, dat recent een plaat uitbracht op Proper-Sheppards label The Flower Shop Recordings. Het vijftal ziet er op het podium wat eigenaardig uit: een vervaarlijk heen-en-weer zwaaiende bassist, een slungelachtige gitarist en een wat timide zanger, maar wat de groep laat horen is wel raak: rustige popsongs die worden uitgebouwd tot een overweldigende geluidsmuur. Vito brengt post-rock waar de scherpe kantjes zijn afgevijld, met referenties naar Explosions In The Sky. Klasse.
Voor de Amerikaan Proper-Sheppard is België een tweede thuishaven: de man woonde een tijdlang in Brussel en kan hier, onder andere dankzij de aanstekelijke radiohit "Oh My Love", ook rekenen op een uitgebreide schare fans. Het fantastische optreden van Sophia, in een slechts voor de helft gevulde Marquee, was één van de hoogtepunten van Rock Werchter 2004 en de band bevestigde vorig jaar op Pukkelpop, met de vingers in de neus, voor een duidelijk gegroeide groep bewonderaars. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat het optreden van vanavond in de minuscule Rotonde in een mum van tijd uitverkocht raakte.
In het ronde zaaltje met het hoge plafond zijn voornamelijk fans van het eerste uur op het appèl: connaisseurs en liefhebbers van de melancholische en breekbare songs van Proper-Sheppard, die ieder nummer kunnen meelippen en zelfs beleefd zouden applaudisseren als de man, vermomd als berggorilla, de polka zou dansen. Die steun vanuit het publiek zal even later geen luxe blijken: de getormenteerde songsmid komt immers het podium op met serieuze stemproblemen en twijfelt zelfs of hij het einde van de set zal halen. Aangemoedigd door de zaal, besluit Proper-Sheppard het er toch op te wagen en hij legt zichzelf de opdracht op het uitstekende eerste Sophia-album, Fixed Water, uit 1996 integraal te spelen. De piekfijn geklede zanger verontschuldigt zich (every inch a gentleman) nog een tiental keren voor zijn stem (it really sounds like shit), nipt eens van zijn warme thee en steekt dan, gewapend met alleen een gitaar, wat onzeker van wal met "Is It Any Wonder".
Het stemgeluid van de man lijkt gaandeweg het optreden te verbeteren en het muisstille publiek in de feeërieke Rotonde is vijf nummers lang in vervoering. Met zachtjes knikkende hoofden en sommige ogen gesloten, lijken velen het verdriet en de pijn uit de intrieste nummers te projecteren op hun eigen besognes en hartzeer. Hoogtepunten zijn de klassiekers "So Slow" en "The Death Of A Salesman". Proper-Sheppard transformeert zichzelf vervolgens in een entertainer pur sang en besluit een soort theekransje te houden met het publiek. Gezellig, ja, maar het haalt wel de vaart uit het optreden. Na verzoeknummer "Ship In The Sand", en een halfslachtige poging om "I Can't Believe The Things I Can't Believe" te spelen, werkt de liedjesbard sereen de resterende twee nummers van Fixed Water af.
Het onverwachte orgelpunt zit in de staart van de avond. Proper-Sheppard is intussen overgeschakeld van thee op bier en rode wijn, en samen met de heren van Vito rockt de man zich doorheen "Desert Song n° 2" (People Are Like Seasons), en een overweldigende "River Song". Met de rug naar het publiek en versterkers op 11 worden laagjes gitaargeweld opgestapeld tot het nummer als een gigantische vuurwerkpijl ontploft in de Rotonde. Toemaatje is rechttoe rechtaan rocker "Theme For The May Queen n° 1" van The May Queens, een zijproject van Proper-Sheppard, waarop de zanger zijn toch al zwaar op de proef gestelde stem finaal naar de ziekenboeg brult: rock-'n-roll, baby!
Dat het, omwille van stemproblemen, geen gemakkelijke avond zou worden voor de Amerikaanse songsmid, was vanaf het begin duidelijk, maar dankzij de eigenzinnige en terechte keuze voor de Fixed Water-nummers tijdens het akoestische gedeelte, en vooral dankzij de meerwaarde die Vito leverde tijdens het hardere slot van de set, mocht het enthousiaste publiek uiteindelijk toch met een bijzonder goed gevoel naar huis gaan.
Hendrik Van Hemelryck, 01.05.2006,

Vito tour diary
En route to Belgium, Led Zeppelin make their first appearance on the van DVD player and something shifts in the cosmos for all concerned. Le Botanique is a fantastic venue and La Rotonde where we play is really cool – if a little challenging for Dr Digby and the front of house sound. Vito play really well (Hammer of the gods, anyone?) but Robin’s voice seems to be suffering which causes concern all round. He manages the set but is clearly suffering by the end. Looks like a visit to the doctor’s is on the cards.

Set list
1. Is it any wonder
2. So slow
3. Are you happy now
4. Another friend
5. The death of a salesman
6. Ship in the sand
7. I can't believe the things I can't believe
8. When you're sad
9. Last night I had a dream
10. Desert Song n° 2 (*)
11. The River Song (*)
12. Theme For The May Queen # 1- Alright (Oh Yeah) (*)
13. Rollin (*)
(*) With VITO

Photos by VITO