Postmodern Jukebox live in Belfast
When you write about music, it’s easy to try and come across all unnecessary and trendy. It’s simple to take a pop at pop, to discredit the voices on The Voice and yearn for the good ol’ days before autotune and viral videos.
That’s all become so easy in the clickbait millennium, that it’s harder sometimes to take a step back and enjoy the glorious good fun of a catchy pop hook, tap your foot to a dance beat and find yourself just enjoying music for music’s sake.
Maybe like me, you enjoyed Taylor Swift when she belted out those country ballads but it took a Ryan Adams reinterpretation of ‘1989’ for you to really get the songwriting chops behind the pop diva hits. Maybe it takes something like Frightened Rabbit’s cover of ‘Set You Free’ for you to hear the honesty under the house beat. Maybe you despise the term guilty pleasure anyway and just know a damn good tune when you hear one.
All this nonsense aside, a few years ago, I discovered Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox on YouTube. I guess that’s how the story goes for most fans. I was DJing a country, folk, and rockabilly night and stumbled upon their whoopin’ and hollerin’ hoedown version of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’. I was hooked and spent many hours trawling through those videos indulging in the latest pop hits with their own unique vintage styles.
Videos that began in the New York basement of Bradlee’s apartment and that have grown in size and stature. Now, the band are hitting some of the biggest venues across the globe, attracting vocal deliveries from contestants on America’s Got Talent, featuring dozens of hot jazz, blues, and soul musicians and bringing some old time vaudeville fun to the world of plastic pop.
The Waterfront Hall hosted the band in Belfast. On stage, the saxophone, clarinet, upright bass, piano and brushed snare weren’t out of place. Suited and booted men swapped places with ladies in stockings and sequins and in a venue accustomed to crooners, jazz recitals and orchestral performances nothing seemed too out of place.
Nothing that is apart from the song choices. From the off, it was feel good fun. Von Smith set the standard with Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Baby’, while the room rocked to big band swing beats. Ariana Savalas hosted the show with style and sass, somewhere between June Carter-Cash at her most effervescent and your favourite burlesque queen. Her vocal performances skirted the rockier edge of jazz with subtle tones of Gwen Stefani as she beckoned volunteers from the crowd, and even managed to drop in a “who loves ya’ baby” that her dad would have been proud of.
As the show rolled through the years, the likes of Rayvon Owen, Aubrey Logan, and Casey Abrams lent their vocal talents to a plethora of unlikely golden era reworkings of modern classics. There was plenty for the millennials with Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’, Britney’s ‘Womanizer’, and N-Sync’s ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’. Abrams, in particular, is an old time song and dance man, an instrument swapper and an accomplished vocalist flitting between the rock and roll of ‘Stacy’s Mom’ and a stunning Radiohead cover of ‘Creep’ with the kind of gravitas that would pack them in at The Palladium.
We’re all too young to have enjoyed the days when music hall, vaudeville, and cabaret were the go-to entertainment. Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox with their stunning harmonies, soulful solos, tap dancing, bold brass and exceptional talent make it possible for a new generation to get that old time feeling.
Maybe it’s time to get out, enjoy life, catch more live shows, sip a red wine and have some fun with music again… But don’t unsubscribe from those social media accounts or turn off the reality TV just yet because you just ever know where that next unexpected talent will appear.