"Aaah! There she goes AGAIN!
She's tidied up and I can't FIND anything!
All my tubes and wires,
and careful notes and antiquated notions...."
I saw Thomas Dolby perform live yesterday (September 28, 2006) at the Berklee College of Music, as part of his 'Sole Inhabitant' tour. He's gone back to his one-man electro show roots - him, a video screen, and an island of gear on the stage ranging from a 1947 impedance bridge to what looks like a brand new Macintosh Pro workstation, with several keyboards and a rack full of various modules thrown in, and everything in between. Although I never saw him perform live in the 1970s or 1980s, I did have most of his albums when they came out, and always followed his music.
At one point, he looked out over us and said half-jokingly, "You're a very respectful audience; you haven't shouted 'Science!' once!"
To which someone shouted out "Freebird!" naturally. Everybody laughed, including Dolby.
The show was excellent. He played a number of his oldest tunes, sometimes offering anecdotes about them; for example, I hadn't known the track One of our Submarines was written about his uncle, who perished in a British submarine. Dolby never met him, but would look at his black-and-white photo in the hall growing up and envision him as more of an 'action man' (his words) than the rest of the family.
He talked about his fascination with gear, as well. "This is a 1947 impedance bridge," he told us. "It ages like a fine French cheese." That device, with scrumptiously enormous metal dials visible on the video screen, provided rich warm analog warbles and buzzes during various songs. The video screen itself not only showed a montage of clips and effects, but also served to show us what he was doing via a tiny camera ("designed for the U.S. military in Iraq") mounted on the earpiece of his 1940s-vintage headphones.
As part of the show, he 'built' a song from scratch, layering it up from loops entered manually into various pieces of gear and sequenced in realtime on his music workstation. His samples were not only instrumental clips, but samples transferred from the cranky and hugely expensive early analog synthesizers and primeval samplers he had worked with in the late 1970s and 1980s onto modern gear; an archaeological archive of sound from a career in electronic music pulled from the stacks and made to dance for us on stage.
He did, of course, play 'She Blinded Me With Science' for us. How could he not? And there was a button, on the M-Audio pads, which simply played the sting of that wonderful British voice (which belonged, Lord_Brawl reminds me, to the late famous Scientist Dr. Magnus Pyke) shouting "SCIENCE!".
I want that button.
A partial playlist: Wind Power, Europa and the Pirate Twins, Airhead, Hyperactive, She Blinded Me With Science, The Flat Earth, Flying North, Leipzig, others
Update: I have discovered that the DVD of the Sole Inhabitant tour, available from Dolby's website (www.thomasdolby.com) and elsewhere, is in fact of the Boston concert that I attended, so if you're curious to see what I'm nattering about, that DVD will show you that precise gig.