Let’s just say this right up front.
I’m not crazy for Jazz.
I have never liked Jazz.
I have many dear friends who live for Jazz and they love it more than anything.
All power to them and no disrespect intended.
It’s just not for me.
I like pop music.
I do love me some swing though.
And I LOVE a cover version that takes a song to somewhere you never expected it to go.
I’m not crazy about tap dancing.
But I am crazy for Post Modern Jukebox.
Boy Howdy they were terrific.
Doing popular songs from the chart in an unusual style is nothing new of course. The weird and wonderful cover version is a rich and bottomless ocean to investigate. Going back to the sixties everybody and their dog (literally) were covering Beatles songs (look up Helmut Zacharias doing Can’t Buy Me Love).
There are dozens of reggae Pink Floyd tributes. Luka Bloom can turn a song by Abba or Radiohead into a lilting Irish ballad. In the late 1970’s there was a band called Big Daddy from California and there shtick was they had been entertaining the US troops in Vietnam during the war and had been captured by the Vietcong and when they were liberated all they knew how to play was fifties rock’n’roll music but the kids wanted the chart hits, so you ended up with 50’s arrangements of songs by Devo, Survivor and they did a CD which was all of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I can’t stand the point of a straight cover band, just recreating what is on the record. A tribute act that is recreating a performance of an act you can’t see any more Abba, Beatles, Elvis, Bowie, if done well can be a good night out. But for my money if you are going to play Led Zeppelin music, get an Elvis Presley singer out front and do those songs reggae style (Dread Zeppelin). Richard Cheese does lounge versions of everything from System of a Down to Wham and the amazing Senor Coconut can make you believe songs by Daft Punk and Deep Purple should have been Latin American sambas. So there is a real art to reinterpreting songs that people know and putting a unique spin on them.
Enter Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. One of the hugest success stories of Facebook and YouTube, they started making jazz/swing versions of current pop hit’s and posting them on the social media page. Starting in 2009, their clips gained huge popularity and by the time they re-imagined Macklemore’s Thrift Shop in 2011, it got a million hits in seven days and four million in twelve months (currently on 14 million!).
Initially doing a new track every week, before too long they were an internet sensation. They come jazz, ragtime, 50’s doo-wop, and more to spin these songs to another place and their clips have had over 757 million views. They have close to three MILLION and followers all over the world. The line up is pretty fluid with singers and musicians joining and leaving the line-up all the time, so you don’t really know who is going to be in the band when you go to see them live (Scott Bradlee himself isn’t here on this tour for instance), however what you can be very sure of is that the band is going to be crash hot and the featured vocalists are, without exception blow your freaking mind.
There is a very healthy, and may I say beautifully turned out, crowd at Thebby and they have sensibly left a lot of room for dancing at the rear and sides of the floor. The four piece band take the stage to wild cheering and our host and MC LaVance Colley welcomes us, assures us that we are going to have a lot of fun together and reminds us to tag our photos #PMJtour when we post on social media. He introduces the first vocalist for the night the remarkable baby faced Von Smith. He is thirty one, but looks seventeen and smashes out a sensational version of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe up is Sara Niemietz tackling the Gloria Gaynor hit I Will Survive she shimmers and shines and makes the song her own.
Hannah Gill is making her debut with PMJ tonight and if she is nervous you’d never know it as she transforms Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know into a smouldering Julie London torch song. Von, Sara and Hannah join forces to swing up Bye Bye Bye (Nsync) before our host LaVance reveals his own spectacular pipes on the Bruno Mars hit That’s What I Like. And this is how the evening goes songs like Outkast’s Hey Ya, Meghan Trainers All About That Bass and Ella Kings Ex’s & Oh’s, get radical swingified make-overs. Smith’s show stopping version of Timberlake’s Cry Me a River is spine tingling and a huge highlight.
I mentioned not being overly enamoured of tap dancing, but PMJ’s resident tap artist Sarah Reich is phenomenal. She is a dancer, but they use her as a percussionist and all round razzle dazzle. She has a tap/drum battle with drummer Dave Tedeschi, which is amazing and highly entertaining, before the band rocks through a medley of songs for her to perform a history of tap. The Entertainer, Sweet Georgia Brown, In The Mood, segues into Superstition, Sir Duke and Uptown Funk.
One of the delightful things about the PMJ set list is it makes you look at ‘disposable’ pop music through a different prism. A great pop song can be played any style and still be recognisable and as catchy as the original. (*see Tragedy : The All Metal Tribute to The Bee Gees).
So a song like the reggae tinged Magic! hit So Rude can have a whole new life when swung up in talented hands. Petite woodwind player Chloe Fiarenzo, who has been wailing on the clarinet and saxophone all night steps forward to take lead vocals on a beautiful version of Radiohead’s No Surprises and demonstrates she has some impressive pipes of her own. Hannah returns to deliver Are You Gonna Be My Girl? (Jet) and there are versions of Haddaway’s What Is Love and Bieber’s Help Yourself which are terrific, but Colley’s high note defying falsetto on Beyonce’s Halo is incredible.
The whole show is as slick as the slickest slick in Slickville. Smooth, professional, buckets of fun and one could imagine seeing this in Vegas at a big fancy pants casino, and yet here we are at good ol’ Thebby getting the full razzle dazzle. The set finishes with an extended all in, Shake It Off, the Taylor Swift instant classic, which tonight incorporates band introductions and solos.
By now the entire audience is on it’s feet whopping and hollering and singing their heads off. As they are taking their bows people are going crazy. So soon they are back to finish up with a completely unexpected and brilliant version of Some Great Heights a huge alternative hit for The Postal Service which came out in 2003. It is a magnificent song, one we used in my wedding ceremony, which starts with one of the best opening couplets in music history. “I’m thinking it’s a sign, the freckles in our eyes, are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned” – damn I love that. So I am incredibly predisposed to this song and Postmodern Jukebox, do a killer version of it. I’m not sure how many other people here tonight even know the song (they should), but for me personally it is a perfect end to a stellar night. They are regular visitors to Australia now and my advice to you when they return, is grab a ticket and swing baby swing.
I like jazz a bit more now.
I enjoyed the tap dancing.
Review by Ian Bell
Call Me Maybe
I Will Survive
Somebody I Used To Know
I Know I’m Not The Only One
Bye Bye Bye
That’s What I Like
Cry Me a River
Ex’s & Oh’s
History of Tap : The Entertainment / Sweet Georgia Brown / In The Mood / ? / Superstition / Sir Duke/Uptown Funk
All About That Bass
Are You Gonna Be My Girl
What Is Love?
Shake It Off
Some Great Heights