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Apr 12 2012

Dolby’s Time Capsule

As you may or may not already know, my husband Ben takes great photos. He’s been doing concert photography for a few years now and has been featured on Information Society’s 25th anniversary DVD It Is Useless to Resist Us, as well as on the Three Wheaton Moon t-shirt (lower left).

Getting into the concerts as a photographer, even a good one, isn’t always easy, though. So Ben teamed up with the Twin Cities Daily Planet to cover some shows for them. As long as he was doing that, it made sense for me to review the shows I was interested in.

After all, I think any artist should be reviewed by fans. It makes no sense for people who don’t like the artist anyway to try to help people decide whether they should go see the musicians they like. You get too many reviews saying, “I think this concert should have been something else entirely, and anyway, this person annoys me.” For a great example of that, check out this review of the Thomas Dolby show that happened this past Friday.

Sure, a good portion of the audience assembled at the Cedar Cultural Center were tittering along as the fedora-donning 53-year-old new wave pioneer told lengthy tales between songs about his process, the lifeboat where he records, and his academic pedigree — a bit like sitting in J. Peterman’s office during a rambling, indulgent yarn. Those hoping for a night of vintage synthesizers and danceable pop would have to wait.

What many casual Dolby fans who own The Golden Age of Wireless and little else might not realize is that a healthy portion of his career explores the gamut of popular (and unpopular) music. He is just as much a jazz crooner, a bayou stomper, and an Americana leaner as he is a keyboard-tweaking artist. Unfortunately, these efforts come off far less interesting than the stuff that gave him that one true hit, “She Blinded Me With Science.”

“Yeah, the people who want to pay to see Thomas Dolby liked it, but it all sucked.” Right. That makes me extra glad I reviewed the show as well. I wasn’t a huge Dolby fan back when he had one big single and was the video star du jour. I did, however, grow to appreciate his music from repeated listenings while married to a fan, and as I have many times before, I found that the less instantly accessible music of his experiments wore better than his singles.

Also, part of the appeal of Dolby is that he tells stories in his songs. They’re not all happy stories. They’re certainly not all true or even all plausible. But they’re stories, and that’s part of what Dolby’s audience, the part that is still with him 30 years down the road or has discovered him without the benefit of radio overplay, wants.

So it’s no surprise that my review of the show reads a bit like a rebuttal to that one, even though I hadn’t read it before I wrote mine. And maybe mine rambles a little or dwells on details that set the stage more than report or dissect, not unlike a story. I don’t know. You can read it for yourself (and see the pretty pictures). All I know is that, even containing some criticisms, mine reflects more of the reaction of the audience.

Oh, and that Thomas Dolby retweeted my link to it. *squee* I’ll treasure that like the fangirl I am.

2 comments

  1. 1
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I think you’ve got something here: Reviews need reviews. What a dumbass review that was, so thanks for having a prod at it.

    I think She Blinded Me With Science was the least interesting song on the album (not bad, just the least of the crop, and with an amusing video). Europa was a better single. Or Radio Silence. Really, I find anything on that album to be fine for a single, but I’m not a label exec or promoter.

    Being ignorant of Dolby’s (or whomever’s)entire career aside from some single from some version of his first album is no way to see a concert or write a review. Go buy those “’80s hits” albums or watch those VH1 shows if that’s what you want. Or put She Blinded Me With Science on auto-repeat. Whatever.

    Dolby knows how to connect with his fans. If you aren’t a fan, you can’t expect that connection, no matter how good a job of it Dolby does.

    They’re certainly not all true or even all plausible.

    That just goes so nicely with TMDR’s weird anachronistic flavor he’s used at times. It’s a thing in the background which I’ve always found interesting. He’s got all sorts of Je ne sais quoi going on.

  2. 2
    left0ver1under

    Dolby’s best album was “The Flat Earth” (1984) with its variety of styles and rhythms. The heavy jazz elements were challenging to listeners, something that “the mainstream” didn’t appreciate. My gut says that’s a direction Dolby wanted to continue but couldn’t because of record company pressure.

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