Monday, May 8, 2006

In the 1980s, synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby blinded us with science and helped usher in the new wave of video on MTV. On Saturday night at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, an older Mr. Dolby seduced his audience with his soulful lyrics and well-loved melodies.

Saturday’s multimedia show, Sole Inhabitant Tour 2006, revealed more about the wizard behind the curtain — or actually the wizardry behind the synth sounds he makes in his virtual one-man band.

The shock of blond hair is gone. Yet he still makes quite an entrance wearing a portable video camera and aviator glasses on his bald head and a green trench coat over his slim build. The camera enables the audience to see him manipulate the synth dials, knobs and assorted candy-colored delights on his keyboard and computer monitor — like a pilot checking his instruments before a trippy flight. He slowly built layer upon layer of sounds until the audience recognized the melody for “Leipzig” with great applause.

To the crowd’s delight, he dusted off some of the oldies but goodies, such as “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” “Windpower,” “The Flat Earth” and others. Mr. Dolby, of course, sang his MTV hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive!” but the bass line in the latter song should have been louder to keep that frenetic energy pulsating. Still, no one minded, as people jumped up to dance.

The seduction continued with “Screen Kiss” as the image of neon lights cast a glow in the venue. But Mr. Dolby’s intimate intros to the various songs were the best part of the show.

Where has he been these past 15 years?

“I’ve been in Rio de Janeiro, driving cabs with the bass player of the Knack,” he quipped to the audience. Actually, he has been playing smaller gigs in Berlin, Paris and London. He said he prefers smaller, cozier venues such as the Rams Head to impersonal stadiums.

In fact, his comeback was set in motion by his discovery of a still-loyal following on the Internet, where his fans would hash over arcane snippets of his lyrics. (By the way, he says he still “lurks” on the message boards, so he is reading what his fans write.)

Mr. Dolby married actress Kathleen Beller in the late 1980s, and they have three children. He created a company, Beatnik, that specializes in audio technology (think cellphone ring tones, for example).

If there’s a quibble with Saturday’s show, it’s that it wasn’t long enough. Despite his encore, he left his audience begging for more. Isn’t that always the case with a good seduction?

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