Okay, so imagine if Lady Gaga had hung around the Noo Yoik jazz clubs of the 30s and 40s or if Robin Thicke had been ‘blurring lines’ in Appalachia back in the 50s? That, in essence, is the brilliant but simple premise behind Postmodern Jukebox, take ‘modern’ pop songs and re-imagine them adding a little (or in most cases a lot) more musical magic all with a distinctively vintage twist. To quote the chap behind it, US jazz musician Scott Bradlee, it’s all about the creation of “an alternate pop universe” (and let’s face it some of today’s pop songs...and their singers...could certainly do with being transported to an alternate universe at times). It’s been pretty ruddy successful too, with one of the group’s best efforts, a heartbreakingly poignant cover of Lorde’s Royals sung by a 7ft tall clown (sadly he wasn't here tonight), picking up almost 8million hits on You Tube to date...and all without the aid of breakdancing kittens, grannies battering would be muggers or drunk frat boys falling off roofs. Impressive eh? Now, after a sell out US tour, the Jukebox has popped over the Atlantic for a mere handful of dates, one of which is in Brum’s suitably vintage Institute.
Tonight’s gig (like the rest on this tour) is sold out and the room’s jam packed with a mix of the ‘yoot’ plus one or two older fans no doubt attracted by a night of ‘proper’ music...with real tunes and everything. I daresay the announcement at the beginning asking the audience to keep their mobiles off and in their pockets pleased them no end. Actually, who am I trying to kid...I am one of them...and yes, it delighted me. Happily everyone seemed to follow this gentle instruction too which is something of a blinking miracle these days.
From beginning to end Bradlee and his band set out to create a vintage atmosphere with fake radio ads “And now a word from our sponsors...” opening the show and setting the tone for the evening, transporting us all back to a time when the web was something spiders lived in, the net was something ladies wore to keep their hair neat in bed and ‘smart’ phones were made of cream coloured Bakelite. Ahhhh...happy days. The show’s MC’d by a dude called Drue, immaculately decked out in a white tux and black tie, and the core band remains onstage throughout as the singers (three lovely ladies and Drue himself) pop on and off throughout the evening. A brief ragtime instrumental version of The Final Countdown get’s the crowd going (it’s a particularly enthusiastic reception in fact) before Robyn Adele Anderson steps up in glam 20s garb for a similarly ‘ragtimified’ reworking of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. It does indeed sound “fuckin” (or “freakin” if you’re under 18) awesome”.
It’s swiftly followed by a Great Gatsby makeover of Swedish House Mafia’s Don’t You Worry Child and a tap dancing romp through Ke$ha’s Die Young. I’ve been a big fan of using tap dancers to add a little percussive fairy dust on things ever since falling in love with Tilly and the Wall back in the day and the chap that does the business on this tour kept up a mean pace (despite the blistering heat and an outfit better suited to lounging on the deck of an ocean liner sipping a G&T). Robyn sauntered off for the first of several costume changes (I’d hate to see this band’s excess baggage bill) to be replaced by Ashleigh Stroud channelling her inner jazz diva on Katy Perry’s Dark Horse. After some more comedic “words from our sponsors” the band ramped up the oddball with a mock brass battle soundtracked by the Game of Thrones theme tune (trombone won tonight...never pick a fight with a trombone...). Other highlights? How long have you got? Robyn’s klezmer-tastic Talk Dirty replete with a Yiddish Rap and Christine’s Sweater Weather (part Edith Piaf, part Eartha Kitt)...in-Seine-ly good...bonus points for the whistling solo too, not an easy thing to pull off.
An honourable mention for the most enthusiastic tambourine player on planet earth. The dude’s like the Duracell bunny on E. Robyn’s fabulous doo wop version of the perma-twerking Miley Cyrus’ hit We Can’t Stop drags it out of the gutter and lifts it up to the stars, Drue’s Motown overhaul of Nickelback’s Rockstar (loved Scott’s cheeky use of Rhapsody In Blue in there) injected real soul into the pretty plodding original and Robyn’s Blurred Lines well and truly put the ho into hoe down. Yeehaw!
All three ladies came together for a fab 60s girl band version of Ellie Goulding’s Fire (highlight of the night?) and the set was capped off by a bouncy Get Lucky...which is pretty appropriate really as everyone in the audience this evening clearly had done just that by scoring a ticket.
Okay, so at first the whole thing might scream ‘novelty cheesefest’ but it’s pretty clear that a lot of thought’s gone into these interpretations and they’re all done with a oodles of love and considerable musical talent. It helps if you know the original versions of the songs as hearing the transformation is all part of the fun but if you don’t know Ke$ha from a sack of spuds (and I don’t...) then you’d still get a kick out it all. Great interpretations, accomplished performances, gorgeous costumes and a lively, fun approach...this show’s ‘Scott’ it all.
PS: Rarely seen a queue for the merch stand as big as the one tonight...the band's probably still there now pressing the flesh.