Once a pioneering voice in ’80s synth pop, Thomas Dolby had all but fallen out of the mainstream when he launched a tour last fall that ushered forth a new live CD and DVD, both called "The Sole Inhabitant."
Dressed in a trench coat, outfitted with an elaborate headset and vintage aviator goggles, Dolby looks like a futuristic comic-book anti-hero. As the title suggests, Dolby performs solo, commanding a network of synthesizers. His songs are impressive, but his skill conducting his machines is more impressive.
"It’s a risky thing to do," Dolby says. "If the whole thing grinds to a halt, I’m the only one who can fix it, really. But actually, what’s interesting is, on the rare occasion when things have broken down, by the time I get back to my hotel, there’s two or three posts on the forum from people that were at the gig where people are like, ‘Oh, it’s so amazing, the whole thing ground to a halt and he built it back up again and he told this joke.’"
In concert this weekend in Redwood City, Dolby and his machines will be joined by the Jazz Mafia Horns, a three-piece horn section based in the Bay Area.
"The more uptempo stuff that I do tends to be quite brassy," says Dolby, who has used both live and sampled brass. "The brass slots right into my funkier material. The other thing that it adds is a very nice live, analog element. … You see the spotlight glittering off the mouth of the trumpet. And also, the musicians I’ve picked are real virtuosos, so it gives us a lot of improvisational abilities."
Although best known for his 1980s pop megahit, "She Blinded Me With Science," Dolby’s biggest impact on pop culture offers a more contemporary sound — you may well have a piece of it in your pocket.
He founded an audio software company called Beatnik, which, he says, was a "fertile and inventive sort of think tank for interactive music for many years." Today the Beatnik technology is in about two-thirds of the world’s cell phones.
But for Dolby, the most important part of his legacy is in the songs, and what they’ve meant to a new generation of electronic musicians: "I think I showed that you could be a songwriter whose instrument was the synthesizer. A lot of people had deliberately worked with the coldness and the mechanism of electronic music, and my songs were quite personal, and quite emotional."
Where: Little Fox, 2219 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (650) 369-4119 or www.foxdream.com