Thomas Dolby, the English musician best known for his ubiquitous new wave hit “She Blinded Me With Science,” now lives in Baltimore.
Dolby moved there earlier this year to accept a faculty position from Johns Hopkins University as its first Homewood Professor of the Arts.
The move, undoubtedly an intellectually stimulating endeavor for Dolby, also is proving fruitful for music enthusiasts like myself as he settles into the region and continues to experiment and expand upon his musical repertoire.
The professor makes one of his first appearances as a local tonight as a guest of Amanda Palmer during her The Art of Asking Book Tour at the Sixth&I historical synagogue in DC. Palmer’s book is described as, “Part manifesto, part revelation, The Art of Asking is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet.”
While I’m not certain of Professor Dolby’s role, I suspect he may experiment with a fresh run he is making as a DJ. I ventured up to Baltimore on Saturday night to see his world-debut DJ gig at Paradox, a club destination usually for those seeking Baltimore House and related genres. Dolby spun a set of music billed as “’80s Electrofunk” in the club’s inner chamber, and although the crowd was small, he was completely enthralling.
Early in his DJ set, Dolby broke out some solid obvious selections like “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads. But he distinguished himself early by venturing into R&B and rap songs influenced by the electronic movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s. His first selection was Marvin Gaye’s “Midnight Lady,” and he later played other well-received electrofunk selections like “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Magic’s Wand” by Whodini and “Super Freak” by Rick James. The format encouraged the only recording of his own played by Dolby — a cover of George Clinton’s “Hot Sauce.”
Dolby was already winning by the time he broke out some more esoteric ’80s hits, much to my delight. He favored The Human League, for example, and broke out their tracks “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” and “Heart Like A Wheel.”
The professor also lent a great deal of his personality to the set, donning a general’s helmet during wartime references such as the Talking Heads song or a radio operator’s helmet when lyrics referenced communications. Using a preprogrammed sequencer, the likes of which he often deploys during concert performances, he injected famous movie lines like Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” into various melodies at strategically selected moments.
The highlight of his DJ set for me, however, was undoubtedly when Dolby played “Blue Monday” by New Order. Surely, it is a familiar selection for DJs spinning electronic 80s music. But as I heard the song an excited buzz formed in the back of my head as I realized Dolby himself was singing the vocal track. It sounded great, and it was executed seemlessly with panache. Dolby caught the chill of Bernard Sumner’s voice in his vocal, and it was the sort of flair only a talented musician could add to an already intriguing set.
Fans of Ms. Palmer, it is well worth your time to show up early for whatever Mr. Dobly has in store for us.
Tickets are available online and at the door.