Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Thomas Dolby (insert requisite "She Blinded Me With Science" joke) is an exception to the one-hit wonder rule: His most famous song is among his least interesting. Rather than ignoring that landmark 1980s tune during his return-to-performing tour, which stopped at the Birchmere on Monday night, he simply stuck it good-naturedly at the end of a surprisingly invigorating exploration of his underappreciated body of songs.
Dolby's inability to escape the shadow of "Science" -- despite releasing his masterpiece, 1984's magical "The Flat Earth," in its wake -- eventually led him away from active musicmaking in the mid-'90s. He found success as an entrepreneur, starting Beatnik Inc., a company whose ring tone software is now in half the world's mobile phones.
The full house greeted him like a long-lost friend, and he reciprocated with a 10-song solo set delivered from behind a fortress of cutting-edge and analog equipment that he used to skillfully render his singular mix of romantic melody and electronic backdrop.
Multiple cameras -- including one on his head -- mixed Dolby's image into captivating live video sequences, but the most galvanizing moments came when lilting hooks and splashing electronic beats collided in songs such as "One of Our Submarines" and "I Live in A Suitcase." Sadly, he mostly ignored the gorgeously tangled "Flat Earth" material -- its title track and giddy "Hyperactive!" serving as demonstrations of his "song-building" technique -- and a decade off hasn't exactly improved his singing. But when he whooshed into "Europa and the Pirate Twins," Dolby sounded startlingly relevant, no easy trick for a talented artist whose entire career is usually unfairly surmised in a single, shouted phrase.
-- Patrick Foster