Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is one of those viral phenomenons that become larger than life - how else does a New York living-room project grow from YouTube sensation onto a show-selling international band. Whether infusing motown, rock 'n' roll, ragtime, dixieland, or vintage bigband jazz into modern pop, Bradlee's crew have tapped a golden vein in an otherwise brimming industry.
With dozens upon dozens of shows under their belt for the Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour, Postmodern Jukebox or 'PMJ' graced the wonderfully acoustic QPAC Concert Hall for the fifth time in history.
The crowd witnessed stunning vintage/cabaret style costume changes after every song, over-the-top comedy, and beguiling dance for a show that screamed high production value. They really were given the roaring twenties (2.0) with Gatsby-esque tailcoats, bedazzled dresses, and fur scarves for a rather convincing mis-en-scene. In fact, vocalist Hannah Gill was channelling Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan with remarkable parity throughout.
One of the highlights (and there were oh so many) was Aubrey Logan's rendition of Taylor Swift's Bad Blood in which she somehow blended the sublime warmth of an Ella Fitzgerald croon and the high-flying head voice of a Jessie J belter. This was of course following a perfectly harmonised four-person acapella rendition of Miley Cyrus' 'We Can't Stop'. At this point PMJ had hardly played a full hand but the crowd was already abuzz. It was the perfect time for dance extraordinaire Demi Remick to cut through the covers with a Super Mario tap-dance medley that would give Fred Astaire a run for his money. Where else but at a PMJ show? Even some of the older audience members were grooving' to the 8-bit tune which amusingly makes quite good jazz.
The show was buoyed by the levity of MC Casey Abrams who did at times admirably (over)commit to the visual humour, that did end up appealing to all ages. Despite the campy humour, Abrams held his own as a solo vocalist many a time, belting out a powerful rendition of Radiohead’s 'Creep'.
With a short intermission, the show resumed eventually leading to an entrancing performance of Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' which seemed to almost be made for jazz. It's these moments that remind listeners how special the PMJ brand is. This could easily and seamlessly be performed at some magnate's wedding - If only one had the money and clout to hire PMJ for such an occasion. With a mixed audience of old and young it must be a bizarre experience as an a member of the older generation to hear a pop song for the first time only as its jazz rendition. Dare say, it may be better if all pop-songs were debuted this way.
For a band originally "paid in falafel" there is superb talent in every crevice. With Adam Kubota (bass), Tom Jorgenson (drums), Jeremy Viner (woodwinds), PJ Floyd (Trombone) and Reggie Berg on piano the band never falter for even a moment - and rather than hold the fort with solid musicianship, they often steal centre-stage with impeccable showmanship to boot. All of this culminates in a rowdy encore, a floor stomping medley of 'What is Love' and a standing ovation from a full-house.
The two hour show was a scintillating exploration of how jazz-pop covers can ascend their original source material when backed with an adept band, tremendous solo talent, and of course brilliant arrangement. PMJ could've played a slew of jazzy tunes and walked off the stage with a content crowd in tow yet they delivered so much more. Bradlee's PMJ reminds us that jazz in the modern era isn't confined to the high-brow jazz club, vintage film reels, or cliched (puttin' on the) ritzy stage shows. It was borne from self-expression, in basements and speakeasies for the people, by the people. PMJ's Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour is a hecking good show that restores faith in the potential of modern mainstream music.