Review and Photography by Jim Chapin
What is old is new again and what is new is old. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox took over the Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas on Easter Sunday night and transported the audience to another time and dimension.
Postmodern Jukebox has made a name for themselves by reworking today’s popular songs as if they were classic 1920’s big band numbers – liberally sprinkled with flourishes from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60’s. The rotating collective of musicians continually adds a new song/video online each week and has garnered close to 4 million YouTube followers with their amazing arrangements and melodic virtuosity.
Many in the audience took the opportunity to become one with the performance, dressing in their finest 1920’s regalia. Flappers with pin curls and sharp-dressed gentlemen in makeshift zootsuits joined those dressed in their Easter finery for a performance that left everyone with smiles on their faces. And more than a few left their seats to jitterbug in the aisles.
The show was less of a concert and more of a variety show, with bits of over-the-top comedy and vintage dance moves enhancing the musical performances. The Postmodern Jukebox – or PMJ as they are affectionately known – consists of five featured vocalists, each taking a turn singing solo, and then occasionally joining each other in a duet or providing three-part harmony. Each had their own personality with no two alike. This added to the unpredictability of the performances and definitely kept the audience guessing. The main vocalists were backed by a simply amazing six-piece band, whose members often came forward to the stage front to add their own vocal stylings or to display their virtuosity. The dynamite horn section assured that each number maintained a retro feel, with the piano adding perfect flourishes and the rhythm section keeping everything perfectly percolating.
Robyn Adele Anderson opened the show with a down-and-dirty speakeasy rendition of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” with Austin’s own Matt Shields providing rhythmic accompaniment with some impressive tap dancing. The emcee for the night, the wonderfully effervescent Dani Armstrong, performed a sultry version of Britney Spears’ “Oops I did it Again”
Each number was completely reworked in both style and melody making it fun to try and identify the songs before the tell-tale chorus gave it all away. I was particularly confused as Ryan Quinn (recently seen as a contestant on the Voice) sang the next number, whiskey tumbler in hand. The lyrics were VERY familiar, yet the song escaped me completely. Guns and Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” has never sounded so playful, with its New Orleans lilt and smooth delivery!
David Simmons, Jr. followed with a rousing rendition of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” before giving the stage to the amazingly talented Swedish virtuoso Gunhild Carling who performed Madonna’s “Material Girl,” complete with Charleston dance moves and an inspired trombone solo.
And so it went all through the night. Each performance was a pleasant surprise and a lot of fun to experience. The audience was treated to everything from Lady Ga Ga’s “Bad Romance to” The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” to a tap-danced interpretation of the Super Mario Theme. We were rickrolled with “Never Gonna Give You Up” and happily crooned along to Haddaway’s “What is Love.”
Sure, at first glance it’s easy to write off PMJ as nothing more than a cover band with a gimmick. Horsefeathers! They are so much more than that. The music is glorious, the vocals tremendous, and the experience transformative. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is the perfect distraction for today’s tumult. This live show was the bee’s knees!