For different reasons (the pandemic, increased costs of touring etc.) the chances of ever seeing Sophia play in Scotland seem to be diminishing by the year.
So, when the chance to see them on their recent German tour presented itself, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
After arriving safely at Osnabrück station on the afternoon of the show, we were a little alarmed to discover en route to the hotel that the venue appeared to be in the middle of a very large construction site. Fortunately, a little piece of research revealed that the venue had relocated in the summer and wasn’t much further away from the hotel than the original site.
The new Kleine Freiheirt turned out be a welcoming space, with a roughly square standing area in front of the stage but with a bar and additional standing area off to one side. It’s ground floor location also meant that there were doors at opposite corners of the room which allowed a degree of welcome ventilation in these COVID times.
I’d guess capacity is roughly 250-300 although sadly the show wasn’t full when, at the advertised 7pm start, the current seven-piece incarnation of Sophia took to the stage to a tape of the synth intro to ‘Strange Attractor’. There was an immediate hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment when the band picked up the song from the tape and it turned out to be just the first of many such moments.
Sophia mainman Robin Proper Sheppard had talked about “bringing the rock” to this German tour but that didn’t mean anything as simplistic as a rocked-up version of the songs.
Instead, his fantastic band of young guns completely mastered the range of moods needed to deliver songs from last album ‘Holding On/Letting Go’ and the full range of the Sophia back catalogue.
The standard 2 guitars, bass and drums line-up was complemented by three musicians – one who predominantly played keys but was called onto an electric guitar at times, a saxophonist who also played keys and last but not least a violinist who switched to acoustic guitar when required.
This allowed the band to shift between sparse acoustic passages and glorious mountains of melody, in no small part thanks to the textures of the violin and sax. In fact, the sheer musicality of the band in full flight was an absolute joy. The range of what they could do was stunning, building to beautiful crescendos in songs from delicate beginnings, but also, when the occasion called for it, able to dispense the noise.
‘Desert Song No 2’ maybe encapsulated that best, building from a low-key piano led start before exploding into its stunning Mogwai-esque monolithic wall of sound coda.
There were counterpoints in the pure pop of ‘Birds’ and real beauty in different songs including a gorgeous violin solo at one point and all the band on ‘ooh-ooh’s for the introduction of ‘Wait’.
The result was a set of many highs but the last couple of songs took things to a new level. A heart-breaking take on ‘There Are No Goodbyes’ seemed to thrive on the tension caused from the band’s restraint on the chorus.
That led into ‘It’s Easy to be Lonely’ which, musically, might just be the key song in the set, its slow build leading inexorably into a glorious coda of soaring guitars.
After that the appreciative audience demanded more and when the band returned they finally put the pedal to the metal with an immense version of ‘Resisting’ which led straight into a monstrous ‘We See You (Taking Aim)’.
Although the venue half-heartedly tried to bring the lights up after the band left the stage for a second time, there was no dissuading the audience. Eventually the band had no choice but to return to the stage for one final song, a brutal, riffing take on ‘The River Song’ to conclude a truly extraordinary show.
The band’s profile in the UK seems to have dropped off following Robin’s move to Berlin but on this evidence that’s the UK’s loss. Take any chance you get to see this band.