Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Was it a concert? Yes and no. There was live music being played, but it was so much more than just a garden variety concert. It wasn’t a lecture, but it sure had some elements of a lecture. In fact, Thomas said that being at Center Stage was the next best thing to being in one of his classes that he teaches at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Dolby pulled the curtain back so we could all witness the genius and the creative process of a legend and pioneer in rock music. When I am at a loss for words, I default to the simplest form of writing. It was a wonderful evening, let’s leave it at that.
From the moment Thomas first walked on the stage, he had us in the palm of his hand. He didn’t use any tricks or techniques, it just happened. Dolby is a master story teller and just effervesces with charisma. The entire audience was transfixed on every word and every note. We couldn’t wait to hear the songs or the stories. Both went hand in hand to transform the evening into something truly special and magical.
At this “concert”, Thomas only played six songs. That was why it is hard to define what I experienced. He had two audience members draw 3 balls each with Dolby song titles on them. One drawing in the first set and one in the second. So here was the song list:
The songs were only part of it. The rest of the very rapid three hours was made up of song excerpts and stories. Plenty of interesting stories. Stories that literally kept me at the edge of my seat.
Those who think of Thomas Dolby as just “She Blinded Me With Science” are missing a lot of very thought provoking and enjoyable music. An interesting fact that was brought out at the show was about the intro on the Foreigner song “I’ve Been Waiting For A Girl Like You”. Well guess who played that 34 second keyboard/synthesizer intro? You guessed it, Mr. Thomas Dolby himself. Thomas said one of the members of Foreigner said the intro sounded like “massage music”. Part of Thomas’ charisma comes from his self confidence and humility.
In addition to the story about Foreigner, Thomas told a number of stories about David Bowie. Thomas Dolby was not only in David Bowie’s band at Live Aid, he actually hand picked the musicians. He said Bowie could artfully change between a charming gentleman and the diva in the BBC Documentary Cracked Actor. Bowie was very afraid of flying. That fear has been well documented. During Live Aid, Bowie and the band had to take a short helicopter ride to the venue. On the 15 minute helicopter ride, Bowie chain smoked the entire time and he was the Cracked Actor. When he exited the helicopter, he became the charming gentleman again.
The second set was particularly meaningful to me. All of the songs were from the Golden Age Of Wireless album and my high school years. It took me right back to that time. Only the good memories. Thomas told the story about One Of Our Submarines and again I was captivated. The story was about Thomas’ uncle, who perished during World War II in a submarine. I know it is about WWII, but every time I hear that song it connotes the Cold War to me. That’s the beauty of art, it’s personal.
As a child of the 80s, Thomas Dolby was responsible for a large part of the soundtrack of my life. To be able to watch him deconstruct and then reconstruct some of his biggest songs and some more obscure ones, was a truly “once in a lifetime experience”. Just looking around at the people in attendance made it obvious that everyone felt exactly the same way I did. I can say this with absolute certainty: I will always see Thomas Dolby live whenever our paths cross. I suggest you all do the same.