Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Is a Journey Into (Dolby) Sound

I recently had occasion to discover that The Arizona Republic, where I got my first professional bylines during the summers between a few of my college years, has some of my old features and reviews online (well, sort of). What a joy, then, to find this review of Thomas Dolby from the spring of 1988, when I was newly 20 years old. It even includes one of my most obscure call-outs ever (to S.Z. Sakall, pictured above). Enjoy!

Dolby, friends serve a funkadelic menu

By Rob Kendt
Special for The Arizona Republic
May 30, 1988
Hunger is the best sauce. Proof positive: Sound delays and extenuating factors kept the Friday night crowd at Chuy's hungry until the wee minutes of Saturday morning, when Thomas Dolby and his Lost Toy People finally took the stage. With expectations and the drink tally thus heightened, the crowd relished every moment in close quarters with the British keyboardist.

And he seemed to as well. Critics used to knock him for his prim, icy presence in concert; now they might make fun of his loose, goofy warmth and ear-to-ear grin. Dressed like a beatnik flasher, in a beret and an overcoat, with a face that eerily resembled that of character actor S.Z. Sakall (minus the extra chins), Dolby was less the nutty professor than a hippie schoolboy Friday. The Lost Toy People, a motley crew of six L.A. musicians Dolby enlisted for his new album and tour, matched the weird party spirit of the evening. Ranging from youngish drummer David Owens to camp-sexy backing vocalist Laura Creamer, the band executed playful choreography.

Fronting the stage with a strap-on keyboard, Dolby did some silly-nilly acrobatics with bassist Terry Jackson, who, with Owens, kept the beat thumping. The 80-minute set didn't really start to cook, though, until Dolby hauled out the George Clinton-penned “Hot Sauce.” The ensemble sustained a funkadelic good time for five-odd songs, ending up with Dolby's initial radio hit, “She Blinded Me With Science.” Clearly, something amazing is afoot when a punchy club crowd shouts "Science!" on cue.

And lest anyone be mistaken about the lighter side of Dolby, during the incisive misogyny of “Airhead,” he and the band went to great lengths to show that "The man's tongue is in his cheek." Dolby even obliged with a physical demonstration.

The music mix got a bit belabored along with the humor. The band's too many cooks made soup of Dolby's earlier, more delicate pop. Impeccable studio songs like “Europa and the Pirate Twins” and “Windpower” don't stand up to a punch-drunk jam session the way the newer, funkier stuff does. The haunting, jazzy “I Scare Myself” was the sole exception.

A note or gesture may have seemed out of place, but there was nothing amiss in the spirit of the evening. It is always inspiring to see petulant earnestness surrender to rollicking abandon. Dolby's refrain these days could be Dylan's old line: "I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now." Or, to rephrase “Windpower,” "Switch off the mind and let the butt decide."