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Philadelphia Film Festival presents Thomas Dolby’s The Invisible Lighthouse live at the Trocadero on October 24th

dolby The 22nd Philadelphia Film Festival is October 17th through October 27th. One of the highlights will be Thomas Dolby’s Invisible Lighthouse tour at the Trocadero on Thursday, October 24th. The show is a part film and part concert multiplatform event featuring Dolby performing live narration and musical score in front of a projected film image. He’ll be accompanied by Foley artist / musician / sound designer Blake Leyh. Dolby shot and edited The Invisible Lighthouse entirely himself, detailing the closure of a lighthouse on the tip of a mysterious ex-military island off the East Coast of England.

Watch the trailer for the film below. Go here for a complete guide to this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival. Go here for tickets to Dolby’s show.

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Recap: Thomas Dolby’s Free At Noon concert at World Cafe Live, 3/23/12


Thomas Dolby is an inventive musician. In a literal sense, he invented some of the key software responsible for ringtone technology. Within his songs, he also invents genres, parallel universes, and adventure stories that defy the laws of space and time. On his current Time Capsules Tour, Dolby has a video-recording “time capsule” with him: a three-seater trailer that allows fans and fellow musicians to record a 30 second video for the future. Since his music career began in the ’80s—and, even during his 20-year hiatus from recording (during which he worked in Silicon Valley)—Dolby has spent a lot of time effecting and imagining the future.

Though Dolby seems obsessed with the future, he is known primarily for his major contributions to the history of electronic music. He earned his stage name when, at 13, his friends began to call him out for constantly tinkering with electronic music equipment. Since those early days, Dolby has written original music and also produced for other artists. His 1982 hit “She Blinded Me With Science” is not only his most famous single, but also likely a depiction of how Dolby sees himself. In the video, Dolby is brought to a home for deranged scientists, but runs away from treatment. Dolby wants to be mad. In many ways, he continues to cultivate this image, even down to the background image of him on the official Thomas Dolby website (which links to the Flat Earth Society, a group that lists Dolby as member 00001). In the photo, Dolby looks the way Ben Franklin might have imaged someone of the year 2012, with gold-tinted goggles and a clunky headset complete with microphone, video camera and antennas poking up from each ear. Beside him, gold lettering in a typeface that calls to mind the gears of a pocket watch advertises his Time Capsule Tour 2012.

On Friday, Dolby’s tour and time capsule stopped by World Café for a Free At Noon performance. He played mostly from his new three-part album, A Map of the Floating City. On the album, it’s a leap to go from the jazzy, sexy “Love is a Loaded Pistol” (in which Billie Holiday visits Dolby for a night), to the Appalachian bluegrass/techno mash-up that is “Toad Lickers.” Socially and sonically, those are actually conservative conceits for Dolby. “Spice Train” sounds like a Flamenco band dropped acid and then collaborated with Swedish House Mafia. It starts with the line “one big bazaar” but could probably also start “one big bizarre” and work just as well, since “Spice Train” discusses human diversity in terms of garage sales, Spiderman, and cities that start with the letter “B.” Yet, for all their deliberate diversity, Dolby’s songs do have one common theme, which stands out when he introduces them live. Whether they’re about “eco-hippies” (“Toad Lickers”) or a waitress’s night with Dolby’s jet-lagged evil twin (“Evil Twin Brother”), they all occupy a world where technology and romance are inexorably intertwined. Sometimes this makes them more human. Sometimes they’re too far gone.

Dolby’s stories are typically unbelievable, even when he draws inspiration from real research that he hears presented at the TED conferences, where he is music director. His talent isn’t in inventing believable worlds; it’s in how he populates them. Often, his characters seem as impossible as his stories, but he uses his remarkable understanding of technology and sensory experience to make them real. In “Evil Twin Brother,” Dolby’s imagined eastern European waitress, Yalena, speaks in manipulated samples of Regina Spektor’s voice. The Spektor clips mingle with a club-inspired chorus and descriptions of carrot cake and downtown New York, bringing Yalena’s voice out of the song and into listeners’ ears as they dance to the same music that she does and visualize what the protagonist sees. For all of the disbelief that Dolby fans are expected to suspend from character to context, Dolby rewards them for it. A recent instance of his commitment to bringing his listeners into his music involved actually creating a virtual world. The video game, in which players searched for “the Floating City” (and along the way bartered, collaborated and competed for new Dolby tracks), culminated in the 2011 release of A Map of the Floating City.

Of course, sometimes even devout Dolby followers can’t understand him, which could be part of the mad scientist charm. Friday’s show sounded like a nightclub where the theme was mash-ups between different kinds of world music. Instead of young internationals dancing to unpredictable electronic compositions at 3 a.m., as they do in “Evil Twin Brother,” middle-aged people in polo shirts and boating shoes bobbed and swayed, looking mostly delighted—and occasionally confused at noon. One man asked his young son to explain something Dolby had said, exposing a culture gap between Dolby’s fan base and his propensity for the latest technology. The strangest surprise came when Dolby defied concert ritual and left cheering fans without an encore. World Café’s Helen Leicht came on to wrap up the NPR recording and without even asking what the crowd wanted, piped up, “I can sing it—Science!” She jokingly sang another line and a few audience members joined her. It was an unorthodox encore experience, but maybe that’s exactly what the mad scientist wanted. —Naomi Shavin

Set List:
1. Commercial Breakup
2. Love Is A Loaded Pistol
3. Evil Twin Brother
4. Spice Train
5. Road To Reno
6. The Toad Lickers
7. I Love You Goodbye

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Just Announced: Thomas Dolby to perform a Free At Noon concert at World Cafe Live on Friday, March 23

Thomas Dolby—the English musician who wrote the early ’80s New Wave singles “She Blinded Me with Science” and “Hyperactive!”—will perform a Free At Noon concert at World Cafe Live on Friday, March 23rd. Tickets become available to the general public here after today’s FAN concert featuring Simone Felice. For earlier access to Free At Noon tickets, sign up for WXPN’s weekly email newsletter—you’ll be able to RSVP on Thursday mornings, immediately after the performing act has been announced.

As always, check back with The Key on Friday afternoon after the show for additional coverage, including a recording of the full performance.

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In 1985, the 20th Greatest Year In Music, it was all about Live Aid

Photos via facebook.com/liveaid1985

This post originally was published on July 13th, 2015.

Like most people, I experienced Live Aid not in the massive crowd of Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium thirty years ago today, but in the televised broadcast that had people watching around the world.

The all-day concert was held in London at Wembley Station and Philadelphia at JFK Stadium; it was organized by musicians Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox to raise money for the people of Ethiopia. The country was experiencing a famine due to drought – among other factors. After the success of their charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” – as well as Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” – the time was right to strike while the giving iron was hot. Continue reading →

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Ten videos and 30 years of memories from Live Aid Philadelphia

Photos via phillymag.com

Like most people, I experienced Live Aid not in the massive crowd of Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium thirty years ago today, but in the televised broadcast that had an audience watching around the world.

The all-day concert was held in London at Wembley Station and Philadelphia at JFK Stadium; it was organized by musicians Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox to raise money for the people of Ethiopia. The country was experiencing a famine due to drought – among other factors.  After the success of their charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” – as well as Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” – the time was right to strike while the giving iron was hot.   Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: The Orb at The Trocadero, James Hunter Six at World Cafe Live at The Queen, XPN Welcomes Diego Garcia at World Cafe Live and more

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English electronic duo The Orb bring their 25th anniversary tour to The Trocadero tonight.  Bandmates Alex Paterson and Martin “Youth” Glover have marked the quarter-century milestone with a new album called More Tales from the Orbservatory, released on Cooking Vinyl this past June.  The album matches the auditory structure of earlier releases, synching European-sounding house music with vocal samples that are usually spoken rather than sung.  Tickets and information for tonight’s show can be found here.  Watch a live video of The Orb performing “Little Fluffy Clouds” below.

Continue reading →

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Weekend Picks: Gotye at Tower Theatre, Odd Future at Electric Factory, Dr. Dog at Electric Factory


FRIDAY, MARCH 23rd
Gotye (that’s pronounced go-ti-yay, or Wally De Backer) had already made a splash in the singer’s home of Australia. But his recent single “Somebody I Used To Know” featuring Kimbra and its music video (which has over 100 million views on Youtube) shot him into international fame. He’s held the number one spot on the UK for five weeks and made it to number five in the US. The singer, whose voice has drawn parallels to The Police and Peter Gabriel, mixes genres from rock to pop to folk, creating a different sound for each of his songs. They’re not all as good as “Somebody”, but they’re all worth a listen. Gotye performs with Kimbra at 9 p.m. at the Tower Theater at 9 p.m.; tickets to the all-ages show are sold out. —Nicole Soll

Lovers of all things crude and crazy are Odd Future-fanatic shoo-ins. Originating from L.A., this hip-hop group is composed of rapper Tyler The Creator and the smooth-voiced Frank Ocean, among other rising lyricists. Odd Future (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, also known widely as OFWGKTA) capitalizes on well-produced, bass-laden beats while simultaneously freaking out its listeners with straight-forward, often violent wordplay. (Not to mention the group’s nightmare-inducing music videos, brimming with creepy crawlers, digitally manipulated centaurs, and insane plotlines.) Most distinctly, the deep, fluid voice of 21-year-old Tyler The Creator contrasts the vulgar banter of the verses that have already earned him a cult-like level of popularity. Weird as Odd Future is, its music blasts speakers with an unmistakably laid-back Californian flow. Odd Future performs at 8:30 p.m. at Electric Factory; tickets to the all-ages show are $30. —Lisa Henderson

Also Playing: Bruce Ice Cream And The Freeze Street Band + Adult Content at Johnny Brenda’s (9 p.m., 21+, $15); Miniature Tigers + Geographer, The Chain Gang of 1974, Pretty And Nice at Milkboy Philly (8:30 p.m., 21+, $12–$14); Dave Barnes + Andrew Ripp at World Cafe Live (8 p.m., all ages, $17–$25)

SATURDAY, MARCH 24th
Dr. Dog at Electric Factory (8:30 p.m., all ages, SOLD OUT); Polica + Sweet Lights at Kung Fu Necktie (8 p.m., 21+, SOLD OUT); Psychic TV/PTV3 + Kim Phuc at Johnny Brenda’s (9 p.m., 21+, SOLD OUT); Thomas Dolby + Aaron Jonah Lewis, Ben Belcher at World Cafe Live (8 p.m., all ages, $21.50-$41.50);

SUNDAY, MARCH 25th
Dr. Dog at Electric Factory (8:30 p.m., all ages, $23); Andrew Lipke And The Carpe Diem String Quartet at World Cafe Live (7:30 p.m., all ages, $20); Members Only + DRGN KING, Stinky Smelly, DARK at The Fire (5 p.m., all ages, $8); Son Step + Tygerstrype, Banned Books, United Kingdom at Kung Fu Necktie (8 p.m., 21+, $8)