Sophia (+ string section & Astrid W.) - May 15 '09: Bahnhof Langendreer, Bochum (DE), with Black Rust

Set list:
The Sea
A Last Dance
Storm Clouds
Swept Back
Desert Song #2
I Left You
Heartache (Robin solo + strings)
Lost (Robin solo + strings)
Oh My Love
The River Song

Review 1
Just before I left for Bochum, I told someone on the phone that I’d call the evening a success if I made it through the night without crying. Although that was meant as a half-assed joke, I really did prepare myself for a 'heavy', very emotional night – as a lot of you know, Sophia shows can be almost traumatic, both for the artist and the audience and "There Are No Goodbyes" isn’t exactly a light record to begin with.

I shouldn’t have worried. The show was very much the soothing, uplifting experience I had secretly hoped it would be – and it was packed with many memorable musical moments. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as the gig took place at Bahnhof Langendreer, an old train station turned into a cultural hotspot and a place that just has a great, great vibe. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad evening there, regardless if it was shows, readings or just movies at the Arthaus cinema that is part of the complex. Bahnhof Langendreer is also the place where I first saw Sophia ten years ago – I still can’t thank my friend Imme enough for taking me to that show.

We ran into Robin before the show as we waited outside for a friend to show up and he was very concerned about making sure that we’re all on the guestlist, which was very sweet of him. (Thanks!)

Black Rust opened the show and I know it sounds like a stupid cliché, but for a German band they were excellent, getting across that Americana vibe quite perfectly. They started out as a two-piece, but soon the entire band – consisting of two (acoustic) guitars, stand-up bass, piano, drums and assorted percussion instruments – took to the stage for a 40 minute set. Musically they are probably more akin to City Slang acts like Lambchop or Calexico, but lyrically, they fitted the bill perfectly. I guess any band who’d introduce a song as "this is about going out with girls and waking up alone" probably does. No wonder Robin produced their most recent album "Medicine & Metaphors". One thing though: They definitely need to drop their cover of "Rockin' In The Free World" as soon as possible. It started out promising – slow and moody – but soon changed pace, becoming quite pointless. There are many Neil Young numbers that work beautifully in an acoustic arrangement, but "Free World" is not one of them.

Sophia – six band members including Robin plus the string quartett – got on stage at around 9.30pm with Robin commenting on their previous show at the venue, pointing out that they all sat down on chairs and the hall looked quite different because of it.

"The Sea" opened the set and was a perfect start. For the first half of the song Robin’s phrasing seemed quite different, although I’m not sure whether that was intentional and as soon as Astrid joined in on vocals, I didn’t seem to notice it anymore. The highlight of the song definitely was the long guitar solo, Adam standing there, calm in the eye of the storm raging on around him, just being awesome. The song ended with the first of many pronounced string parts – lovely!

"Birds" was next and the first surprise. Previously you could always count on certain songs being in the set ("So Slow" for example), this time it was harder to guess which songs would make the cut and I liked that a lot. Having said that, "Birds" somehow didn’t do much for me. Probably the only song in the entire show that didn’t seem irreplaceable (to me).

Next up was "A Last Dance (With sad Eyes)" – without strings, Will on electric guitar and Astrid on keyboards and backing vocals. Her vocals were great throughout the night, but just superb on this song. I was kinda surprised how much she added to the show, not only musically, but even more with just a good vibe. She definitely seemed to be much more than just another musician on stage (and I guess she was, as Robin's "erstwhile soulmate", as he called her later on in the show.) Interestingly enough, "A Last Dance" seemed to lose its Gothic overtones in the live version, decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or not.

The same band line-up was also used on "Storm Clouds" which sounded almost a bit too mellow, but still served as a great intro to the heavier part of the show.

Fort he next song, Astrid picked up a tambourine (apparently for the first time, as Robin pointed out) and the band ROCKED its way through "Obvious". Now, if you thought this was a pop song, think again. Essentially the same arrangement as on the album, it was played much, much harder and the tambourine matched perfectly with Jeffs heavy drumming. You couldn’t really hear the strings on this one (the only time that the band drowned out their sound), but then again, you didn’t have to.

The show continued in much the same vein with "Pace", this time without strings and Will on guitar. Again, Astrid’s tambourine was surprisingly effective, in an early Rolling Stones kind of way. Robin smiled a lot during this song – he was in a great mood throughout the 90 min. set. His on-stage banter was very focussed and often funny. No long rants this time, but then again, there was no need for that as everything went smoothly.

Probably noticing himself, that he was smiling way too much, he prefaced the next song by saying that Astrid broke his heart and that most of these songs (meaning the older ones, I guess) were about her. ("But we’re laughing in between", he added). "Swept Back" followed and was a prime example of how good the sound was tonight. Ten musicians on stage and you could really hear every single instrument clearly, not just a wall of sound (which can be nice, but is sort of standard when you got a lot of people on stage). The strings added a lot to this particular song. On previous tours I always felt that the strings were just additional instruments, this time they were very much an integral part, but without taking away from the band's performance. After the song's prolonged ending Robin apologized to the new bass player Rory O'Brien, as he’d only played the song a couple of times before and was kinda lost when it went on for a bit…

"Desert Song #2" started with a lovely strings-only intro (despite a false start from Jeff, who apparently wanted to do "Signs" already) and built up to the usual hurricane proportions. Loved the – for a lack of a better word – "eastern" vibe of the strings. It's probably just me, but some of my favorite string moments reminded me a lot of Paul Buckmaster’s string arrangements on "Sticky Fingers". Can’t explain why. After this dose of heavy rock, it was "back to the fun stuff", as Robin explained, tongue firmly in cheek.

Because "Signs" was next and while it's a lovely song performed very, very well (especially the string/piano intro), I don’t think it's funny at all. Astrid joined in on keys and vocals again. The guitar god – that‘s Adam, in case you haven’t been paying attention – contributed his second solo and generally an awesome guitar sound to the song.

The next song was introduced by Robin as his favorite song he'd ever written – and he might as well be right about it. (He also said: If I smile, don’t call me a sellout".) The song in question was "Something" of course and while it's great on record, this version was just something else. The whole band sounded perfect and Astrid's vocals seemed higher in the mix and made the song even better. If I had to single out the one moment of the show I liked best, it would probably be Astrid’s delivery of the line "No you’re a dreamer I can see the light there". Afterwards, Robin said: "That song made me happy". He was not alone.

The last song of the main set was "I Left You", another song that just seems to get better and better every time they play it. The highlight for me was that Astrid wasn’t actually taking part in the performance (she sat down on stage), yet she sang along to the entire song off-mic. So sweet!

After a short break Robin and just the string quartett returned and Robin explained that they would play a couple "acoustic-y ones" and then the band would come out again "and rock like a motherfucker".

"Heartache" was first and I couldn’t help but think that it should have been recorded like this (without the embellishments) for the "There Are No Goodbyes" album. The strings were obviously much more pronounced than on the album and I just loved the performance to bits.

Robin’s song about his late mother, "Lost", followed and worked great for very similiar reasons as "Heartache". Just the heart and soul of the song and the performance.

Then the band returned. It may seem strange that I have commented on all songs in detail and have very little to say about the two closing numbers "Oh My Love" and "The River Song" but it seemed that they were only in the set to give the band an excuse to indeed rock like a motherfucker. And they did! The last song ended with just Adam on stage producing some trademark feedback and then it was all over. No "So Slow", no "If Only", but also: No wasted moments, just a perfect (and perfectly happy!) Sophia show.

I left without bidding farewell to anyone. "How rude of you", you might say, but then again: There are no goobyes!
Carsten Wohlfeld for

Review 2
Plaudern im Orchestergraben
Mick Noll hat beim Bochumer Konzert trotz intensiver Publikumsplaudereien eine tolle Zeit und läutet den Sommer ein.
Es ist der 15.05.2009, der letzte Tag der fünf Eisheiligen, bei Hobbymeteronomen auch bekannt als "die kalte Sophie" und auf dem persönlichen Konzertplan steht "Sophia; Support: Black Rust; Bahnhof Langendreer (Bochum)". Auch wenn es laut Bauernregel heißt, dass von diesem Tag an das milde Frühlingswetter stabil bleiben wird, ist es ungemütlich regnerisch - tja, liebe Freunde der Wetterhoroskopie: "We won't let the clear skies fool us again!"
Bevor es allerdings den gerade zitierten Song "Birds" und Weiteres aus Kopf und Kehle Robin Proper-Sheppards gibt, geben Black Rust aus Ahlen den Auftakt und stimmen mit ihrem aus zwei Gitarren, gestrichenem Kontrabass, Piano, Mandoline, Blues Harp, Akkordeon, Percussions und Schlagzeug rein akustisch erzeugtem Folk-Americana-Sound ideal ein. Allein die Tatsache, dass Proper-Sheppard das im Januar 2009 erschienene Album "Medicine & Metaphors" produziert hat, zeugt von Klasse und musikalischer Gleichgesinnung mit allen Anwesenden. So wundert es nicht, dass die 5 Westfalen auf ganzer Linie überzeugen und wohl verdienten Beifall ernten.
War die Bühne eben schon "gut gefüllt" wird nun weiteres Equipment platziert - darunter auch vier Notenständer mit roten Notenmappen, was einem im ersten Augenblick den Eindruck eines anstehenden Konzertes eines Schulorchesters gibt. Im Endeffekt verdoppelt sich die Anzahl der Musiker. Um auch hier eine Aufzählung der Instrumente nicht vorzuenthalten: Bass, E-Piano, stehend gespieltes Schlagzeug, drei Violinen, ein Cello, eine Sängerin, die an diesem Abend auch ihr Debüt am Tamburin gab und neben zwei weiteren Gitarren auch Proper-Sheppard mit der seinen und natürlich mit seiner unverwechselbaren Stimme.
Aus dieser Melange entsteht bei exzellentem Sound ein Klangteppich aus wunderschön melancholischen Liedern bis hin zu energetischen Klangexplosionen. Gerade die letzte der insgesamt vier Zugaben "The River Song" erscheint mit all ihrer Energie und Kraft rettend, um nicht gedankenverloren träumerisch zu verharren und eine intensive Gänsehaut spürend weiter in einem imaginären Takt zu wiegen.
Dass es selbst bei solchen intensiven Konzerten dennoch Leute gibt, die sich, statt zuzuhören, dann doch lieber lauthals über die Ex in Australien oder die Gründe, warum Clint Eastwood nun eigentlich "Gran Torino" gedreht hat, unterhalten müssen, wird mir und vielen anderen auf ewig ein Rätsel bleiben und ist an diesem Abend - Wetter hin oder her - als einziger Wermutstropfen zu nennen. Danke Mr. Proper-Sheppard für einen tollen musikalischen Abend und auch für die nette sympathische Art und das freundliche Lächeln, mit der Sie jedem, der wollte, noch ein Autogramm und eine kurze Plauderei gaben, auch wenn die Widmung an eine Küche gerichtet war.
Mick Noll, Intro Magazine, 18.05.2009

Photos by Jochen Melchior

Photos by Stephanie Schorre

Photos by Frank Szafinski