Thomas Dolby Comes Back From the Future
On Thursday April 13, 1980s mad scientist Thomas Dolby, who revolutionized not only electronic music but created cell phone ringtone technology, appeared for his second headlining live performance in the Los Angeles at the Key Club.
Dolby is currently on the ‘Sole Inhabitant’ tour, which resurrects his futuristic, introspective music after a 20-year hiatus. He truly is the sole inhabitant, as he walked onstage in a Cold War-esque trench coat, glasses and retro headphones to an entirely electronic setup of synthesizers, oscillators, drum pads and other equipment. He proceeded to create an entire concert from his voice and these tools.
Dolby played old favorites like ‘One of Our Submarines,’ ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ and ‘Hyperactive’ to the delight of a crowd that ranged from kids to 40-something ex-frat boys gleefully singing along. Early in the show, Dolby’s MIDI programs and computer tested him, failing at random parts in the songs, but as he informed us, ‘Like all great tours, there are bound to be a few kinks.’
Thankfully, these kinks were ironed out and he was able to continue. He created intimate moments with the emotional ‘Submarines,’ which featured video footage of searchlights over the water and a military man inside a submarine working with the controls.
One could see Dolby working to strike a balance between the ‘rock out’ energy of the song with its story—Dolby’s uncle died in a submarine which went missing in England. ‘Budapest by Blimp’ was like a moonlight serenade. Then, with rousing tunes like ‘Europa and the Pirate Twins,’ the energy in the room built and Dolby laughed off a few incidents like mixing up the words to ‘Science.’ He told the audience, ‘I’ve got new songs but I’m too chickenshit to play them.’ Hopefully this will change in the future.
Also on the bill were newcomers Folio. The band is a sort of new New Order, combining intellectual-pop with the new-wave synth sound of yore. This was one of the most polished young bands I have ever seen. They captivated the audience with panache (dressed similarly to the Killers) and solidly written and performed songs.
They clearly had a loyal following in the audience, judging from the number of delighted teens singing along.
Another opening band, the Worldwide Spies, did not fare as well. Another concertgoer summed them up as ‘Patrick Swayze trying to do an impression of Jim Morrison, the dead Bee Gee on guitar, Adam Baldwin on the bass and the eyes of Val Kilmer peeking out from the drum set.’ He wasn’t far off. The Spies have a huge arena sound, and it’s not that their U2-inspired rock songs were terrible. They have the right sound to get heavy radio airplay. Their lead singer was simply too big for his britches, swaggering, sneering, screeching and yelping through the set. The effect was comical on such a small stage and especially for a group of unknowns.
Though the other bands on the bill rocked the crowd with mixed success, Dolby proved that despite a 20-year absence from performing, his music is as far-reaching and futuristic as ever.