Concert Review: Thomas Dolby, April 2, Mod Club

Thomas Dolby with his Time Machine (Time Machine Tour 2012)

With age comes wisdom, and so I would argue, does showmanship. It has been 30 years since Thomas Dolby first became a household name across North America with the Magnus Pyke-sampled “She Blinded Me With Science“, and his loyal fanbase shows no signs of waning or fatigue. In fact I’d say the opposite–that Dolby has captured an audience ravenous for his quirky wit as well as his first album in 20 years (A Map of the Floating City).

Let me first say that it was nice to see an audience that has stayed interested in their hero throughout the decades. The guy beside me knew the words to every single song, including those from the newest release, and everyone seemed generally extremely supportive of the tour. I think Dolby too was genuinely touched, and he responded with an embarrassment of riches in terms of effuse touring and songwriting stories.

I have said this again and again, but this is really where you truly  see the distinction between the performer who has earned it versus the one who has fallen into it. After some 30-odd years, these guys have really shown me that those who truly enjoy performing do not seem the least bit bored or pathetic. On the contrary, they seem to have more energetic showmanship than any of the new acts I’ve seen within the past 5 years. That said, I understand that it’s much easier to be in a good mood if you’ve spent a tour on a plush luxury bus armed with chandeliers and Perrier versus crammed into a van with self-financed equipment that is worth more than the federal government deems your net worth to be.

I suppose none of this is really relevant. Dolby is a self-made guy, with a successful entrepreneur developing synthesizers for the mobile phone market, and although he’s married to one-time Dynasty actress Kathleen Beller. I doubt that’s what’s been keeping the family in silk robes all these years. On top of it all, Dolby has served as the musical director of TED, a conference talk phenomenon that has captured the imagination of very nearly every female I am facebook  friends with.

In terms of setlist choices, the backlist part was again loaded with old favorites (Europa and the Pirate Twins was probably the highlight of the night for me, accompanied by the story described below). I was generally hard-pressed to find a song that wasn’t accompanied by a charming story.

Commercial Breakup
One of Our Submarines
The Flat Earth
Evil Twin Brother – Dolby described an elaborate dream (I think) he had about being in New York City, being whisked away by the hand into dark alleys by a mysterious French woman, being taken to a Eurotrash discoteque, and tearing the carpet up with dancing under a giant disco ball. I’m sure I’m not doing the story justice here, but my memory is getting a little fuzzy.
Love is a Loaded Pistol – In another dream, Billie Holiday visits Dolby flying through space and time to tell him she’s got an idea for a new song, and in spite of the cliched title, she still looks hot.
My Brain Is Like a Sieve
Road to Reno
The Toad Lickers
I Love You Goodbye – I believe this was the song that was inspired by a visit to his friend who had moved to New Orleans. Dolby went to visit him on a 2-day trip that involved a surreal series of performances, that later inspired his penning this song. It was so celebrated on Louisiana radio that they coined it the “Louisiana Rain Song”, and prompted a local radio station to conduct an over the phone interview with him about some of the gross creative liberties he had taken “We got PARISHES here, not COUNTIES”. It was at this point, or the prior song, that a fan from Hamilton who had purchased an instrument from Dolby on eBay joined him onstage along with a bushy-bearded banjoist whom TD had met randomly (he described the possibility of a small family of Slovenians residing in that beard).
Field Work
Europa and the Pirate Twins - When Dolby’s label released this, they asked him to sing the song in various translations, including Spanish, which had to be written out phonetically for him. When he was later whisked to Madrid to do a live television performance, he had a difficult time remembering the words (though the audience helped him out). Probably the highlight of the show for me.
She Blinded Me With Science - This may have been the moment a lot of people were waiting for. With the funniest introduction to a song I’ve ever seen, Dolby went onto describe the chagrin his song had caused Magnus Pyke. Peppered with opportune “SCIENCE!!!!!!!” interjections.

Spice Train
Silk Pyjamas

All in all this was a great show. While some of the more hillbilly-laced numbers weren’t exactly my style, I can certainly appreciate how eclectic this man is, and how he’s certainly not just a one-hit wonder.

Posted on by Allison in Concerts

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2 Responses to Concert Review: Thomas Dolby, April 2, Mod Club

  1. Mona C

    … Being lucky enough to have had a chance to hear most of these stories on another TD show, I have to correct you on one tiny point : the woman in the song “Evil Twin Brother” is Russian, not French. -And she’s voiced by Russo-American musician Regina Spektor, which is truly brilliant, at my opinion-.

    Otherwise I’d like to thank you for this review! It is personal, full of details and you seem to get involved into it. It was a pleasure to read. Plus, I’ve got to agree with most of what you say about the atmosphere on his shows as well as the man himself, as some of the reasons you give are precisely the reasons which made me into one of his fans… Dolby is brilliant, and it’s always nice to see him and his work are given the credit they deserve. Thanks fot that !

  2. Jay

    Great review!

    I would say that the highlight for me would have been the great opening track, which was one I had forgotten about. That song had the best groove of the night and featured the best synth work of the whole evening, as it has that fabulous solo in it. I went into the show expecting a lot more of this and lot less of what actually got delivered, since I was not aware of much of his later work. “Science” was a huuge highlight, since he really gave us that really great and funny story.

    Could has used a few more early tunes, especially “Dissidents” and “I Scare Myself”, and a couple more from “Golden Age”, but I must say I he was very entertaining and I am thrilled that I got to see the man!

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