St. Tropez/The Hustle
You Say It's Alright
It's Easy to Be Lonely
Darkness (Another Shade in Your Black)
The River Song
Baby, Hold On
I Left You
Ship In The Sand
There Are No Goodbyes
The God Machine frontman, Robin Proper-Sheppard returns to Liège after an absence of something like 13 years. The same city, in fact, which hosted the first ever Sophia gig on European shores. My city. A sobering thought actually – a reminder of the passing of time. It’s also a heartwarming thought. That an artist and talent whose career could have potentially been terribly derailed has, in fact, forged a second chapter of quite stunning quality is remarkable. Quite a journey, then, for us and I suspect even more so for Robin himself.
Reflektor, narrow, boxy and devoid of any fabric or natural ‘dampeners’ of any kind, actually surprised me with its acoustics. Fears of a ‘soupy’ concert were quickly dispelled as the band took to the stage, hitting their stride during set-opener, ‘Resisting’. Next up ‘The Drifter’, with its dreamy, almost waltz-like quality was further opportunity to admire the detail of the mix as well as the songcraft. A good start all round for band, venue and mixing desk.
‘Don’t Ask’ followed and the eagle-eyed among you will have already spotted that the band appear to be running through latest album As We Make Our Way (Unknown Harbours) You’d be right, at least so far. However at this point Robin took a moment to address the audience. “We’ve been playing the album in its entirety for the other dates”’ he said. “Tonight we’re going to do something slightly different. We’re going to play old stuff” and they launched into ‘Desert Song 2’, the incendiary fan favourite from People Are Like Seasons. I have a personal attachment to this song so it was something of a lump in throat moment for me too. ‘Excuse me for a moment, I seem to have something in my eye.’
He has a great little band too – tight, neat drummer, cool bassist and a whirling guitarist who might easily cause injury on a smaller stage. What’s not to like! A shout out to the keyboard/multi-instrumentalist at the back who I noticed cast a supervisory eye over proceedings. Nicely done Sir. As it was the band survived problematic amp leads and a broken string with the absolute minimum of fuss.
Rewind, because I ought to at least mention opening act Okay Monday who, earlier, took us back to nineties grunge/power pop. Imagine a hybrid Teenage Fanclub/Pixies with Buddy Holly slash Eddie Redmayne on vocals and you’d be near enough. It’s all you can ask of any opening act just to to be a bit interesting. Okay Monday were. They are three impressive young men who certainly know their instruments.
The remainder of the headline concert was a blend of older and newer Sophia. I didn’t make precise notes on the set, sorry. I actually went not intending to ‘work’ and yet I returned home with the need to share. They’re that good now that Sophia belong on the ‘must see’ live act list and I’ll catch then every time they come by. I think every single track from the latest record did eventually get an outing punctuated by some of the better known ‘oldies’. I’ve never been a huge fan of bands playing an entire album, in sequence, at a gig. It takes away the anticipation and uncertainty. The ‘not knowing’. Happily many of my preferred cuts did get an airing – ‘If Only‘, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Oh My Love’ were all received with appropriate crowd reverence as was the cathartic (and frankly obligatory) ‘The River Song’. What struck my mind was the sheer mastery of power versus restraint. Many Sophia songs are quite emotionally overwhelming. Yet Robin’s set keeps things nicely varied so the impact of those ‘epics’ never gets lost. Speaking of which we didn’t get ‘Lost (She believed In Angels)’ which was a minor pity as it is quite frankly stunning. They didn’t have opportunity to rehearse it, simply. Had they have, I firmly believe it would have been delivered tonight, setlisted or otherwise. As it was they played ‘Pace’ from Technology Won’t Save Us. I’m only really questioning myself whether they played anything from 2009’s There Are No Goodbyes? Possibly not. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong. (It has been known)
Of course there was a shout from the crowd for The God Machine. Never gonna happen folks. We will put that down to naivety and leave it there. Proper-Sheppard can be rightly proud of his work with his first band but we’re long past the need to define him by it. Don’t get me wrong, I love The God Machine too. But actually, in a way we do get The God Machine. ‘River Song’, ‘Desert Song 2’… these could have been God Machine songs in the same way something like ‘Boy By The Roadside’ could have been a Sophia song. Point being, they’re all Robin Proper-Sheppard songs. He’s Sophia now. He’s been Sophia for two decades. Embrace what we have guys.
As ever, tonight was a warm, emotive and very generous concert. I counted five encores. A couple of beloved songs from Fixed Water (‘Another Friend’ and ‘So Slow’) were each a touching and poignant moment for crowd and artist alike. The atmosphere was light, even funny with Robin recounting tales of his time in Belgium and even being deported back to USA. I’m not going to share all the best stories. Get yourself along to a show. Good to see the man looking well, looking happy even.
As we departed into the Liège night we were all exactly that…
Brett Spaceman, 24/03/2017, sicmagazine.net
Photos by Christophe Dehousse
Photos by Dominique Houcmant