Postmodern Jukebox Flips the Idea of a Cover Band On Its Ear
Photos by Ivan Guzman
May 28, 2015
“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, “Steal My Girl” by One Direction, “Burn” by Ellie Goulding, “I’m Not the Only One” by Sam Smith, and “I Don’t Mind” by Usher. From looking at some of the songs performed Thursday night, it may seem like I went to a "Kidz Bop Live" or Now That’s What I Call Music concert. However, since it’s not second grade anymore and I’m not running to Toys R Us to get the latest Kidz Bop release, the show I attended was none other than Top 40 cover band Postmodern Jukebox, and it was anything but that.
If you don’t know much about Postmodern Jukebox, here’s a brief rundown: the troupe was formed by New York native Scott Bradlee and gained popularity in 2012 by re-arranging Nickelback songs in the style of 1960s R&B. Since then, they have become more popular with their YouTube channel where their “ever-growing, rotating collective of talent” covers popular radio hits and places them in a different era, whether that be taking Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and turning it into a 1950s doo-wop cover or taking Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and flipping it into a bluegrass “hoedown” tune. With each video gaining millions of views, Scott Bradlee’s project has turned into a worldwide phenomenon in quite a small amount of time, having sold out shows in more than 60 countries around the world – and rightly so.
People watch Postmodern Jukebox’s covers because it’s entertaining and nostalgic to hear a song you might hear every day on the radio get re-arranged into something you might hear in a speakeasy during the Roaring Twenties or maybe during the 8 o’clock slot on the Ed Sullivan Show. Perhaps people even like PMJ because they can turn an overplayed, unbearable radio song into something listenable again. Either way, to truly appreciate Scott Bradlee’s creation you must be able to acknowledge his unmatched musical prowess and all members of the band, an overflowing quality of which were at Warehouse Live Thursday.
I’m pretty sure I got baptized multiple times last night every time heavily showcased member Morgan James hit those high notes that she holds for 15 or so seconds. Each member of the current tour displayed their overwhelming levels of talent, whether it be American Idol Season 10 alumni Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams showing that they are anything but one-dimensional reality-singing-competition performers, the sultry Ariana Savalas with her melodic whistling (I tried to do it; it’s not easy), or even the host of the show breaking into song and serving up some vocals that I don’t think I’ve heard since the time Stevie Wonder opened his mouth in the 1960s. What was even more impressive was the part of the show when Bradlee asked the audience to shout out random pop artists. The piano connoisseur then proceeded to take Celine Dion, Elton John, Billy Joel, and OutKast and perform a medley of songs from those artists right there on the spot.
The talent was so impressive that at times it felt like I was not at Warehouse Live but a huge Las Vegas production. The outfit changes after every song, one of the “world’s greatest tap dancers” right there in the flesh, the over-the-top personalities, and the way each member looked at the crowd after they performed was something you’d see from a world-class act, but what really made the experience the “Postmodern Jukebox experience” was the audience. Just standing in line at the box office, I would say six or seven people passed by me not only dressed in full costume evocative of the vintage era of their choice, but also taking on this era in every way by even acting how someone would act during that era. Inside, top hats and bright-colored tight dresses were dispersed within the groups of people who laughed and drank together while waiting for the show to start. These are the types of people Postmodern Jukebox attracts to their shows, and I think it’s pretty amazing.
Because of the sheer talent and stage presence every single person on the Postmodern Jukebox tour has, I believe what started as a small musical venture in a New York City apartment has the potential because one of the most recognized acts in the world. When you think about it, it’s not hard to understand why Postmodern Jukebox has been so successful and why this is a big possibility. Just writing this review and looking through their YouTube videos, I’m tempted to get distracted and watch pretty much all of their videos. A big reason they’ve gained popularity, though, is because of the range of people they appeal to; young people are interested because they hear the popular songs on the radio and older people are interested because of the nostalgia and sentimentality PMJ’s arrangements evoke.
It’s the perfect formula for success, and with the right marketing, it’s difficult to think about who Postmodern Jukebox can’t reach.
Personal Bias: I watch their videos frequently, and I’m a huge fan of Haley Reinhart (my American Idol obsession will always be a part of me).
The Audience: The couple in front of me was dressed in full 1940s formal wear and did little swing dances during multiple songs. They also kissed each other every five seconds.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.