Thomas Dolby and ETHEL: Music for the morning after

photo via Flickr,, by cyanocorax
Face it, music friends: plenty of times you come home from a club or theater convinced you've seen an amazing performance. The morning after, as evidence of the concert leaks onto the Interwebs, you are disappointed to learn that what you see and hear doesn't match what you experienced in the moment. It doesn't mean the moment was any less transcendent; it just means that the transcendence didn't last. That makes it even more welcome that rare time when the morning after is as great as the night before.

People go to TED for many reasons: the quality of the content, the quality of the networking, the ability to say "I went to TED." (Mark has written about some of this year's standouts, among them talks by Bill Gates and Temple Grandin.) I go, in part, for the music. For many years, Thomas Dolby has been the conference's music director, booking an eclectic, surprising, yet entirely appropriate cast and also leading a house band (a new one every year) to kick off each of the conference's dozen or so sessions. This year Dolby chose the rogue string quartet ETHEL as his accompanists, and they were standouts through the event, playing a wide variety of covers (including Led Zeppelin, New Order, Tracy Chapman, and The Verve), backing other performers (David Byrne, Andrew Bird, Jake Shimabukuro), and showing up in at least one club and one hotel lobby for semiplanned jams.

I've already written about what ETHEL's performances at TED made me feel and think about but today I got to experience the performances again, because today TED made unedited videos of last month's event available to people who attended. Turns out it wasn't just being there that made Dolby and ETHEL sound so stirring: they still sound fantastic. I know these are raw recordings, but they sound clear through my computer's speakers, perhaps because I'm not as surprised by their repertoire. But because the performances are clearer sonically, I get to hear wrinkles I missed in the big hall, so I guess I still am surprised. Under normal circumstances I'd expect people to laugh at me if I told them that the best hard rock and synthpop band I heard this year was a string quartet, but it's the truth. Now I have proof. I hope the whole world gets to see and hear how great Thomas Dolby and ETHEL are as soon as possible.

(photo by cyanocorax)