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
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
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 cant
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
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.
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
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
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
Al perfetto confine tra tristezza e violenza
Il dolore conosce tutte le strade per arrivare al centro del nostro
mondo e non ce 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 laltezza
dellasta 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
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 dellattesa
con una splendida So Slow appena rallentata dai colpi
sofferti di Jeff Townsin e del suo maledetto tempo inesorabile.
Limpressione che si ricava ad ascoltare i brani dellultimo
People Are Like Seasons in versione live e quantomeno
migliore di quella malinconia appena sfiorita, soprattutto se paragonata
ai lavori precedenti, che pervade lultimo full-lenght rendendolo
quasi unopera 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, quellimmagine 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,
lamico 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 ce
una band che non perde tempo, non cerca lapplauso e respira
china sugli strumenti più per timidezza che per Dio sa quale
Sarà laria dellAcademy 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 allimprovviso, 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)
Are You Happy Now
Desert Song 2
Oh My Love
Ship In The Sand
I Left You
If A Change Is Gonna Come