News Column

Dolby offers "Science!" and more

October 30, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 30--CARNEGIE -- Thomas Dolby blurred the lines between a concert, a movie, computer science and performing arts Tuesday in an unusual but well-received show.

Fewer than 100 fans turned out at the Carnegie Free Library of Carnegie (the "Carnegie Carnegie"), and they rewarded Dolby with two standing ovations. It was one of those nights where size didn't matter much.

Dolby performed his lone U.S. hit twice -- with both his off-the-cuff, somewhat a cappella and straight-up versions of "She Blinded Me With Science" pleasing the crowd of 40- and 50-somethings.

Let's make that a new concert rule where so-called "one-hit" wonders must play their one hit twice.

The show began with a 40-minute screening of Dolby's self-made festival-winning film, "The Invisible Lighthouse," about his efforts to chronicle the final flicker of light from an English lighthouse near his childhood home.

The snyth-pop and seminal MTV artist stood stage right, playing keyboards, singing and narrating the film; as his musical partner, Blake Leyh stood at the opposite end, strumming electric guitar, and supplying sound effects with a bevy of gizmos as he's done for HBO shows like "Treme" and "The Wire," and movies like "The Abyss" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

When the movie screen between them showed Dolby, in a one-man boat, landing ashore on the lighthouse's island, Leyh jiggled a tub of ball bearings, or a container with water to replicate the sounds matching the film action. Leyh walked across various surfaces, including one that looked like bubble wrap, to reproduce the footstep sounds of Dolby in the movie.

Dolby admitted in a mid-show audience chat that he had focused so much on video images -- first with his iPhone than other easily bought DIY camera equipment -- that he neglected to capture the proper sound, which brought Leyh into the picture and ultimate tour.

As a spectator Tuesday, it was sometimes difficult to glean which noises were coming from the film, and which were created on-the-spot by Leyh. Either way, the storytelling remained compelling, as Dolby determinedly filmed a lighthouse documentary despite resistance of English military officials who run the island. The film posed a more universal question of whether our childhood or decades-old memories get jumbled in our psychosis, especially with our brains' "hard drives" becoming so overloaded.

As he returned to his childhood coastal town, Dolby began to question if he had exaggerated for years cherished childhood memories of the lighthouse's beam shining brightly on his bedroom's walls. Forty-five years later, it now seems the beam was too far away and not bright enough. Though he also found a 1965 reference book that said the lighthouse's beam was much brighter then, so maybe his memories were accurate.

Ultimately, Dolby decides it doesn't matter, as the lighthouse's beacon will bask his bedroom in bold, constant, reassuring light whenever he tells the story about it to his grandkids.

When the film finished, the Carnegie crowd gave its first standing ovation. Dolby then welcomed on stage YouTube sensation and fellow uber-geek Tim Blais, who demonstrated how he created a viral video (2 million views) pairing science's lofty String Theory to the multi-tracked music and video of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Using a computer tablet about the size of a phone book (ask your parents what those are, kids), Blais, who flew in hours earlier from Montreal, said his "Bohemian Rhapsody" video would be too tricky to recreate there on stage, so he wanted to improvise on a different song. Naturally he picked "She Blinded Me with Science," prodding Dolby to add the vocals, which the singer did in an enjoyably crisp, a cappella fashion, urging fans to shout out the madcap "Science!" part.

It was a special treat hearing such a famous song deconstructed to its essence. Dolby filmed the segment with Blais for a future web show he's planning similar to Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio."

With that out of the way, Dolby, joined by Leyh on guitar, performed five of his solo songs, starting with "Spice Train" and "Love is a Loaded Pistol."

Through his keyboards, sound effect samples and voice, Dolby mustered a meditative mood on "One of Our Submarines," inspired by an uncle who died in World War II, with a more symbolic message about the end of the British Empire.

Dolby and Leyh then stirred up a Eurotrash disco vibe for "Evil Twin Brother," which led to a second helping of "She Blinded Me With Science" faithful to the geek-chic original.

There weren't many of them, but spectators rose to their feet to applaud the show's finale.

___

(c)2013 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com

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