Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox

21st century pop hits in a variety of vintage styles.
Modern pop songs as golden age swing standards, Motown belters or variety-hour showstoppers.
O2 Academy Oxford, 190 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1UE, Sat 23rd Feb 2019

March 18, 2016

If you frequent the gig review pages on this fair site, you might see a host of complaints directed at the flock of bright phone-screens that customarily hover above the heads of a crowd. On a night such as this, short-arses like me give thanks for them, as sold-out flat-floored venues can leave us without a clear line of sight to the act on stage! Behind a forest of arms and heads, I caught some great views from a nearby iPhone 6S. Sorry about the product placement but it was a big part of my evening.

This may be the attendees' first experience of Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox outside the confines of YouTube: they're a phenomenon based simply on the recasting of modern pop songs as golden age swing standards, Motown belters or variety-hour showstoppers. The efficacy of their formula is proven by their Oxford turnout (heaving), and the freshness is maintained by a constantly rotating cast of guest vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers.

Head online to see how they do 'All About that Bass', 'Love Yourself' and more - songs I didn't appreciate before hearing them covered. And I'd never expected a Katy Perry song to be euphoric, before a propulsive, Supremes-style bassline and Sara Niemietz's all-in rasp and relish. If your cheese-threshold is unhealthily low though, I'll forgive you for not toe-tapping along to such recontextualisations.

The marks of a good cover version: does it bring out something new in the original? Does it feel natural in its new context, without being shoehorned into an unsuitable rhythm, having phrasing stretched or lyrics unwittingly sent up? PMJ pass these tests in the vast majority of cases, as the arranger's and the musicians' understanding of their chosen genres are comprehensive, and their intentions are set to 'crowd-please'.

And the O2's crowd was certainly pleased. To address possible criticism, though: are these merely the Greatest Wedding Band in the Universe? And the ultra-exuberant Tambourine Guy has limited charm. But questions get silenced by vocalists of blistering power and virtuosity. Also, who could object to an awesome tapdancing showdown? Incorporating this as lead percussion was an impressive and unusual arrangement choice, if the segment ending up slightly overlong. The pianist was on fantastic form, but the absence of Scott Bradlee himself made me wonder whether there are numerous PMJ's on tour at once, and he's on some other continent...

A crowd of guys nearby merit attention here as they absorbed so much attention on the night - their drunken cheers, inability to decide where to stand and frequent collisions with other gig-goers ensured that the main event was often turned down into backing music. I won't name names, but if I could I would with full contact details via which audience members could direct their feedback. In short, if a venue more suitable to their vibe were to host this Jukebox on a victorious return, I'd send you there for a feast of unpredictable musical quotations, New Orleans grooves and the assure of a smile. Until then, they release new videos constantly, so grab a device and fire up the jukebox.

The organiser says:

To usher in the upcoming Twenty-Twenties, famed time-twisting musical collective Postmodern Jukebox will circumnavigate the globe in 2019 on their Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour. The tour is meant to prepare the world for a new decade -- one that Postmodern Jukebox creator Scott Bradlee hopes will see a return to the style and craftsmanship that typified the music of past generations.

Last time around the 'Twenties gave us Jazz, America's one true art form. Who knows what is possible in the 2020s? One thing that is for sure is that there are a lot of folks that are tired of the clickbait headlines, mindless reality TV, and smartphone addiction that has only served to divide people in the last decade. We're using our small corner of the pop culture space to tell people to forget their troubles, and come join us for a night of celebrating true musical talent and timeless style - live and in real life. - Scott Bradlee

The Postmodern Jukebox, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour, will host official Twenties 2.0 initiation performance parties in nearly 250 cities. This will also include a huge run of UK dates throughout February and March 2019. The UK tour will kick off in Bristol at O2 Academy in February, landing in Oxford on Friday 23rd.

“When creating a touring version of the Postmodern Jukebox concept, we work on pairing the right talent with the right material and building a unique and amazing experience for Postmodern Jukebox fans,” Bradlee says. “Get ready for the most sensational '20s party this side of The Great Gatsby."

Started by Bradlee in 2009, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) has gone on to amass over one billion YouTube views with 3.5 million subscribers, and have chalked up more than 1.7 million fans on Facebook. For the past half decade, PMJ has toured the world, playing hundreds of shows to sold-out houses on six continents. They’ve also performed on shows like “Good Morning America,” topped iTunes and Billboard charts, and caught the attention of NPR Music, NBC News and a wide array of celebrity fans.

Having discovered their hugely enjoyable and varied music videos on YouTube, I arrived at the Oxford O2 with high hopes for a memorable evening.

It was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. The band kept us waiting for an hour, during which the hall became unbearably hot. It remained hot for the first half of the show, and then became bitterly cold when someone finally switched on the air conditioning on which blasted out ice-cold air over all of us.

The sound was awful, and when my friends and I moved to the back of the hall for some respite, we were bombarded by even louder and distorted sound from the rear speakers. If Scott Bradlee himself had been there to witness this one dimensional din from the audience's perspective I think he would have been horrified. Maybe it was so poor because he wasn't there. The sound had minimal contrast in tone or mood - everything blared out at too high a volume. You have to wonder if anyone from the band was aware of how the PA was sounding, as it misrepresented greatly the quality of these musicians and their musicianship.

And the less said about the ridiculous 'Tambourine Guy' prancing around the stage the better... I'm going back to enjoying them on YouTube for the time being.

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