Ship In the Sand
I Left You
Oh My Love
If A Change Is Gonna Come
Desert Song 2
I Can't Believe The Things I Can't Believe
The Sea (instrumental intro only)
(five min. break due to Robin feeling ill)
Lost (instrumental intro only)
(show over due to Robin being ill)
So the headline for the Essen review reads: “Robin Proper Sheppard stops show prematurely”. “Nothing new, eh?”, the cynics sneer, only that this time it wasn’t because Robin was so pissed off with the audience that he didn’t want to continue, he was simply sick and couldn’t go on.
It was still a great, great night though. Before the show I was thinking how difficult is usually is to figure out the differences between solo shows with fairly similar setlists – and, in this case, identical stage sets. More often than not the differences are very subtle. This show however, felt really different than the previous two I had seen this spring in Cologne and Duisburg. Not better or worse, just different. I’ll try to explain why, although I’m not sure if I can actually get it across on paper.
Of course Robin has always kind of worn his heart on his sleeve, both with his songwriting and his revealing in-between song banter at the shows and the point of the “At home with Sophia tour” is to have a setting that’s as intimate as possible, yet I felt that his was the most personal Sophia show I’ve ever seen. Possibly it’s just closer to my heart because after years and years of playing every imaginable city in my area, Robin finally played my hometown, at a place less than ten minutes walking from where I live, but just when I thought that – after 20 Sophia shows and many long conversations with Robin – I knew every last detail about the background of songs like “So Slow”, “The Sea” or “I Left You”, he surprised me with many, often fascinating new details about these songs, sharing (even) more of his life than before.
The show started with Robin rattling off a list of people who had written in and made song requests by e-mail. In a couple of cases he explained why he couldn’t play the songs (for example he declined to do “Woman”, because of the unfortunate first line – actually, I had been wondering for years how he could still sing those words), but roughly half of the first dozen of songs were audience requests, so who’s complaining? After starting off with the always lovely “Heartache” and “If Only”, he kicked off his shows – the stage *is* his living room after all, at least for the time being – and played “Swept Back” for my mum (“I do requests for mum’s, too”, he quipped – I thought that was very funny), before explaining that he wouldn’t take requests from under 14-year olds, based on the fact that Hope – his by now 14 year old daughter – always shrugs off anything he plays for her! “Something” was done the “nasty” way, i.e. without the “Astrid sweetness”. As an introduction to the song, Robin mentioned a conversation with the girl he’s been seeing, who was surprised that he is very much like his songs in real life. Apparently she said: “I had hoped you were exaggerating a bit [in your songs]”…
My personal highlight of the show was the intense version of “I Left You” that followed, jokingly introduced as “a cheerful kind of number”. I do recall hearing this song a few times thinking it was over-long, but tonight and, I totally lost myself in it (it’s is not the first time this has happened) and it totally transported me to be different place in my mind – isn’t it great when music does that to you?
“Signs” – another audience request – followed and Robin needed two attempts to finish the song, as he thought about his life too much while singing this number and he got carried away. The second attempt featured a funny spoken word bit about the “I should have left you at Christmas and then again on Valentines” line, with Robin declaring: “She really said that!” Hilarious – unless you’re Robin, I guess!. For the end of the song, Robin was on his toes, totally into the performance.
“Oh My Love”, one of the few songs of the night not to be introduced with a story, sounded different. I don’t know what exactly was different about this version, but it felt new and, dare I say it, improved. “If A Change Is Gonna Come” – love the reverb on the voice! – and “Desert Song #2”, the latter a new addition to the set on this acoustic tour, made up the “loud” part of the show, before Robin took us back to the early days of Sophia with “I Can’t Believe The Things I Can’t Believe”. I don’t think I’ve heard this song more than once or twice before, but tonight I got to hear it three times – twice at soundcheck and once during the show. I’ll probably have to wait another ten years before it pops up in the set again!
After this Robin got into this long story about Hope’s birth (which was new to me), but once he started playing the first few bars of the song in question (“The Sea”), he suddenly stopped and said that he felt as if he was about to faint and that he wanted to take a five minute break. Yes, it was kind of hot in the room (as the AC had been turned off because it could have interfered with the recording of the show), but certainly not unbearable, so at first it looked as if everything would be okay when Robin re-emerged after said five minutes. He played “So Slow” but by the end of it he looked really pale and shaky and even though he still managed to introduce “Lost” and strum a few chords, he then had to stop again, told the audience that he was very sorry that he couldn’t finish the show and left the stage only to be very sick backstage. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say he definitely wasn’t faking it.
Of course, a few people were initially sad that the show was over sooner than expected (your truly included), but in the end everybody was happy about the 80 minutes Robin had been on stage, because as I mentioned earlier, it really was a very, very intimate show, passionate in all the right places, but not overly intense. And with all the revealing banter, it was very entertaining as well. It seems that Robin get’s better and better at performing solo with every passing show. There’s just three scheduled gigs left, but after this awesome show in Essen, one can only hope that he’ll decide to add more shows next year. From what I’ve heard, it’s not very likely, but not entirely unpossible, to use the immortal words of Ralph Wiggum. It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady things, as they say, or in this case, ‘til Robin auctions off the “At home with Sophia” backdrop on eBay.
Carsten Wohlfeld, 13/12/2010
Wochenend- und zugleich Urlaubsende, da passte nichts besser in die melancholische Stimmung als ein Sophia-Konzert.
Diesmal gab sich Robin Proper-Sheppard solo die Ehre und das Grend war komplett bestuhlt und erweckte so die Atmosphäre eines kleinen Kammerkonzerts. In weißen Slippern betrat er dann kurz nach neun die Bühne und spielte sich direkt mit Heartache, If Only und dem wunderbaren Swept Back einmal qzer durch Sophias Bandgeschichte, ehe er dann elegant die Schuhe abstriff und auf Socken weitermachte. Dabei widmete er sicvh auch ausführlich dem Publikum, dass er vorab im Netz gebeten hatte, per Mail Wünsche für die Setlist zu äußern und erzählte immer wieder kleine Geschichten zu den Liedern, über den Tod von God Machine-Kollege Jimmy Fernandez oder über gescheiterte Beziehungen, vielleicht dem Hauptthema in seinen Liedern. Doch sein geradezu britisches Understatement verhinderte dabei, dass dieser Seelenstriptease peinlich wirkte. So kündigte er z. B. Lost (She Believed In Angels) an, spielte es dann aber doch nicht, weil er zu aufgewühlt dafür sei (es handelt vom Tod seiner Mutter).
Nach gut 70 Minuten und den ersten Akkorden von The Sea unterbrach Robin seinen Auftritt, da ihm schwindelig sei und er umzukippen drohte. Die voll aufgedrehte Heizung sorgte in der Tat für eine geradezu unangenehme Wärme im Raum, so dass die Küftung angestellt wurde. Nach gut fünf Minuten kehrte Robin mit zwei Flaschen Wasser unter dem Arm zurück. Doch nach nur einem weiteren Lied war dann endgültig Schluss, es ging einfach nicht mehr.
Dennoch waren die knapp achzig Minuten kaum an Intensität zu überbieten und traumhaft schön.
Rainer, Allroy For Prez, 16/12/2010
Photos by Carsten Wohlfeld
Photos by NH&H
Photo by Rainer