Thomas Dolby at World Cafe Live -3/24/2012

Ever have the experience of hearing an artist’s new album, disliking it, and then finding that it grows on you?
“Map of the Floating Cities”, Thomas Dolby’s first album since 1992’s “Astronauts and Heretics”, is one of those. I had previously heard the “Amerikana” and “Oceanea” EPs, and wasn’t terribly impressed. The first seemed too forced – “Hey! Look at me! I’m a Brit relating the American Experience!” and the second, too mellow and bland.

On further reflection, though, it’s all good music, just different. Which after twenty years is probably to be expected. I find it amusing that the WikiPedia entry for the album lists it as “New Wave” – apart from stylistic issues, can that even really be considered a genre any more?

This was the third time I’ve seen Dolby at World Cafe in Philly, and the third or fourth time eating there as well.  I’ve found the food to be surprisingly good.  Dinner was roasted salmon with lentils, parsnips, and butternut squash. The only minor disappointment was that the peanut butter pie I’d had previously wasn’t on the dessert menu.

The opening act was the bluegrass duo of Aaron Jonah Lewis and Ben Belcher. During the main part of the show, Lewis came back on stage and played several numbers with Dolby.

Set list:

Commercial Breakup
One of Our Submarines
The Flat Earth
Evil Twin Brother
Road to Reno
The Toad Lickers
I Love You Goodbye
Love is a Loaded Pistol
My Brain Is Like a Sieve
Europa and the Pirate Twins
She Blinded Me With Science
Spice Train
Silk Pyjamas

Although this crowd in particular would not have been overly disappointed to have “Science” omitted – and replaced with “Windpower”  – he still played it with enthusiasm, noting that it had been very good to him.


All of the arrangements of the older songs were very well done, in that they were different enough to make them interesting to hear (and probably perform, as well) yet similar enough for the hardcore fans.  Even with sampled drums and guitar synthesis, having those sounds played by live musicians  made a big difference.

He seems to have largely evolved away from the mad scientist persona adopted earlier in his career, into a sort of retro-futuristic visionary. His Time Capsule (a very cool Steampunk-esqe trailer) allowed up to three people to record a thirty-second Message to the Future, which were compiled and added to his YouTube channel (It is to be hoped that there will be people around to view them someday.) Our group did wait while one of our friends recorded a message, but the rest of us declined.

In talking about it afterwards, we realized that even though we’re huge fans, at this point we’ve seem him three times in the same venue in four years, so it’ll be  a while before we have a compelling need to see him again. This was driven home after the show – one friend had gotten an autograph and mentioned that there weren’t a lot of people waiting; the rest of us decided not to bother going back in. Since I already have several signed items, adding to my little shrine seemed egregious.

All in all, a great show, and well worth the time.


Posted on March 25, 2012, in Concerts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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