So it was that Sophie would finally play her first ever live show in America - and fittingly (at least I think so) she did so in the city that never sleeps - my hometown of New York.
Appearing as a special guest of the Heritage of Pride, Dance on the Pier, which was the culmination of Gay Pride Week - and with The Freemasons as featured DJ's - on Sunday June 27, 2010, Sophie took the stage and dazzled the crowd like no other before her!
Leading up to this triumphant moment however, there was no guarantee of my attendance at this short notice event. Although I have been doing my fair share of writing for a number of web (and some print) publications - and so benefiting from media access to many live shows - nothing is automatic and frequently it's only at the last minute that you are truly sure you're "in" or not. Why should this be any different?
Yes, I did have the email string showing the circuitous route that approval to gain "media entry" often takes (I count the artist's management, the events press credentials representative, a talent agency, and the co-chair of the event as all having to sign off on it). Finally there was the "if you have any problems" message, "please call" yet another name (with number included). Ah, I've been through all this before. Its sure to get screwed up, but you gotta show up, right? I mean - the key to most everything I've learned is in the just showing up. Good things happen more often than not when you just-show-up. Not always though - there was the time I tried to sneak into the Bell House for a sold out event (after attempting to buy a ticket but there were none to be had). I actually got my foot in the door and I still think if I had moved just a little quicker I could have got lost in the crowd - ah, but that's another story. Of course I was emboldened to attempt this at all after I had successfully snuck into a sold out Halloween party event the previous October (I was told by the manager my name was on the list - only to discover it wasn't there - and they tuned me away). However, as I watched one costumed individual after another pass by the increasingly disinterested gatekeeper, it was a matter of stepping over the velvet rope with cat-like dexterity - and inside I was. But - that's another story.
However, it's essential to this one, because as I headed to Pier 54 at 13th Street and the West Side Highway, I still had doubts in my mind if I was going to get into this pricey event or not. It was a beautiful sunny day and the happy faces of gay people were all around me. I felt a bit like an intruder (and undercover) but I soldiered on with a positive attitude. The first gatekeeper said I had to go to another table. I went to that table and after fumbling through the papers and lists (and not finding my name) I was told to go to another table. I was beginning to get that sinking feeling but kept up the pursuit and finally at my third stop (and some consulting and approval needed from additional levels of management) it was agreed to let me in, but not with the coveted "VIP" pass, but just a general admission. It was a deal. I was grateful for that, because, like I said, this was something of a costly event.
Inside the place was already teeming with mostly athletic looking men, dancing all around. I tried to "blend in" but thought I stuck out like a sore thumb. Was it my ill-fitting trousers (packed with all of my cameras and other tools of the trade) that "gave me away" as not being fabulous enough? No, it had to be my generic and inexpensive wrist watch that was "outing" me for not being, ah, "in." It hardly mattered as the simple knowledge that Sophie was somewhere nearby and would soon be performing had me in a state of excitement and wonder. And the truth of the matter was all the guys (and the smattering of girls) around me were all great and seemed to be having a fun time on their own as well. As is often the case, no one is really ever as concerned about you than you ever think they are. Only you are. Everybody is too busy worrying about themselves!
As I spotted the Freemasons putting some equipment on stage, I knew the moment was drawing closer, and I wormed my way through the crowd to get right up front. I spotted Sophie just behind the outdoor stage! How could you miss her? She is radiant in her appearance. I then saw her husband (and The Feeling bassist) Richard Jones standing nearby. Catching his attention first I waved and he gave me the universal nod of recognition. Happy enough with that, Sophie then took a moment to look at the crowd. I gave her a big wave as well and she smiled and waved back. I'm always amazed when she recognizes me. However, to be fair I have been shoving my internet image in her face for nearly 10 years. So, job well done, eh? She gestured to me if I wanted to come back stage. Of course I bobbleheaded "yes". She then did a head-bobby facial expression, hand gesture "I'll take care of it" and I couldn't believe this was actually going to happen.
Up the stage steps she strutted and began her show.
Sophie is truly the consummate performer. Live and in person for the first time (for me - and up close!) I could see just how comfortable she is on stage. How over a decade of getting out there makes something like this second nature. "I've waited a long time for this," she states. "Are you going to party with me?!?" to which the crowd whoops and hollers - and Sophie flashes that same delightful, girlish smile that first captured my attention when I saw her perform on BBC America TV - live on the TOTP's show.
Sophie then does this slinky belly dance like move that literally oozes with sex appeal. When she's not swaying and shimmying - she stomps her formidable high heels with a percussive force that throttles the stage.
"We're just getting to know one another," Sophie says before her next song. "I understand," she continues - It's out first date! It's very early days. I hope we can see each other again sometime." Whoooo Hoooooo. (goes everyone in the crowd). "Some things you need to know," she continues. "My name is Sophie Ellis Bextor. I've come all the way from the UK to be here this evening! I'm an Aries. I like Sushi. I've got no sense of direction! and I love my gay fans" More raucous cheers. Sophie has such long legs - and she certainly knows how to use them!
Look and listen as Sophie performs her classic "Murder On The Dance Floor"
Sophie is not unfamiliar with a gaggle of photographers
Making a point
On "Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer" Sophie morphed between slinky vamp moves and pogo jumping straight up and down. "Would you come see me again sometime?" she asked. More hooting, hollering and "yes" from the crowd.
And slinky dance moves
She then introduced Russell and James from The Freemasons who's have been an invaluable ally to team Sophie this past year. My personal gratitude to them. "May your sunset-through-the-nighttime be seamless and beat-filled," is how Sophie concluded her performance. It was a first for the both of us, and a great thrill for me to be a part of it.
But then things got even better. Sophie, God bless her, did not forget about me. Although she had to spend quite a bit of time posing for pictures with all the lucky folks backstage -her dancers, various show promoters and other (I assume) industry types - she kept an eye out for me. After more back-and-forth headshake movements between us - she got the shows promoter - Mark, to come over to me (with my nose pressed up against the chain-link fence) where he told me the secret plan. He had me go out of the piers main area and I was to meet them at the bendy turnaround. As I zigzagged through the crowd like a footballer bearing down on the goal area (a few toes may have gotten mashes in the process, but hey - I was on a mission) - suddenly a golf cart pulled up and Mark jumped out to get me. Telling me to hop on back, sitting there were none other than Sophie and Richard! I couldn't believe it. Wait? I was going to get to ride with Sophie and Richard on the back of a golf cart? This was unbelievable. But, there we were - whisking along - me chattering away with red bull in hand - Sophie and Richard returning amused chatter themselves. I had a present to give to Sophie - a copy of both versions of the interview I just did with her (the blogspot and MOG versions) complete with all the comments on them. She seemed genuinely happy to receive them.
Suddenly we were in front of this big, air conditioned trailer - which looked like a one of those really comfy tour busses. As I did a brief interview with Richard outside (I wanted to find out exactly where his band's album progress was, at the moment) Sophie popped inside.
Listen in as Richard gives some insight on The Feeling's next album:
Soon we were all inside and I was pinching myself with disbelief. Was I really sitting in a private air-conditioned backstage trailer with Sophie, Richard and a few of their close personal friends? It had to be true, as I actually was there.
Sophie mentioned she wanted to change out of her performance dress, so I took this opportunity to get a picture with her before she did. Off she went to some unseen room to get changed and I sat with Richard as we talked about so many things. A lot about bands and television shows. I showed him the Sophie music I had on my iPod (he recognized the authorized iTunes download show, but was surprised to see the bootleg "live in Mirabel" concert on there).
Sophie came out in a different dress (looking equally as gorgeous) and came over and sat down right next to me. I have to admit right here and now that it was a completely surreal experience. A part of me (the reality part) said "yes, this is actually happening". While another part of me kept saying "I can't believe this is actually happening!" I'm sitting in a backstage trailer - and Sophie Ellis Bextor is sitting right next to me - having a casual conversation with a few of her close personal friends. And me. I'm there! I know, I know - "act like you've been there before" - and to a certain extent - I have - and I did. But - not really like this. Can I compare the dank, dingy basement of The Mercury Lounge (where I have met, hung out with, and interviewed many wonderful artists) with this? Part of it is the history that I have with Sophie - and the mystery of who she has been to me for nearly a decade. Sure, I've met her once or twice before - at some in-store signing events for Richard's band The Feeling when they came to the US. And then I did stand behind her for The Feeling's performance at Webster Hall that time. But - nothing ever like this. And certainly not the way it went down. From taking a long shot at even attending the event - to still having my doubts that I would actually get in - to having the fear that my name wasn't going to be on anybody's list (and possibly doing my "mentos" sneak in move again? There were a lot of cops around) - to getting in - seeing this amazing show right up front - having Sophie not only recognize me, but make sure I got on the golf-cart-to-air-conditioned-backstage-trailer - to hanging out for over an hour with her having casual chats about - everything!
Knowing that I was swimming in unchartered waters, I made sure to be keenly aware when things might be breaking up and knowing it was time to go. I bid them farewell and headed out into the night.
As it turns out, as I was wading my way out through the "festival" barricades, I spotted Sophie, Richard and their two friends walking on the other side of the street (in search of somewhere to go to dinner). Another surreal experience - seeing Sophie Ellis Bextor - her tall, leggy figure unmistakable - walking down a New York city street. This stuff only happens in dreams. This time, it actually happened.