Live reviews

REVIEW: Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0, at Cambridge Corn Exchange

Postmodern Jukebox in Cambridge
iPhone snap by Richard Bateman
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0
(Cambridge Corn Exchange, 21 February 2019. Review by Richard Bateman) 

“Scintillating… and fun!” was my companion’s verdict on Postmodern Jukebox‘s Cambridge stop on their Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 tour yesterday evening. Two tremendously uplifting hours which provided the perfect escape from the dregs of winter.

Taking modern pop tunes and re-arranging them into pastiche jazz and rock ‘n’ roll styles is PMJ’s beguilingly simple and effective schtick, which has accrued them over 3.5m YouTube subscribers in the last ten years. Not bad for a group who, as we were told last night, were paid “in FALAFEL SANDWICHES” for their initial efforts in founder Scott Bradlee‘s basement apartment in 2009.

Given visual ballast by a mise-en-scene straight out of the world of the Great Gatsby, replete with art-deco music stands, top-hats-and-tails, spats, braces, beglittered dresses, and a ruffled backcloth drape straight out of the Apollo Theater, this show really does transport you to a glitzy, glamorous world far away from the now.

A rotating carousel of guest vocalists is a key part of PMJs cabaret-vibe. There were five of them yesterday. All, in quite distinct ways, superb. Particular props must, however, go to LaVance Colley (who was also the MC for the night) – whose quite astonishingly wide (and high) range was given full, ear-popping vent on Cee Lo Green’s F-You and Beyoncé’s Halo – and onetime America’s Got Talent contestant Tia Simone, who in addition to having something of the look of Tina Turner had all of the vocal power.

Behind them, the six-piece band – led on this occasion by bassist Adam Kubota, and given superb propulsive energy by Dave Tedeschi on drums – was seriously tight, and clearly having an absolute ball. There are plentiful lashings of ham and cheese in this set, but under their aegis any last vestiges of cynical resistance to a soundworld which contained a belting power-ballad rendition of Radiohead’s Creep (sung by former Wicked star Emma Hatton) and a hot-swinging I Will Survive (complete with a middle-eight samba section and a jazz-flute-solo), was indeed futile.

Don’t be fooled by the title of the tour, mind. Although the first four numbers of the set stuck fairly faithfully to the ’20s musical vibe, thereafter there was at least as much stylistic influence emanating direct from the ’50s and ’60s. Not that that was a bad thing, allowing, as it did, a deliciously sexy cocktail bar version of Bowie’s Life on Mars to rub shoulders with a roistering up-tempo take on Toto’s Africa, alongside a sultry, swinging All About That Bass, and a Shirelles-esque doo-wop version of My Heart Will Go On that somehow managed to make Celine Dion’s schmaltz-fest not only listenable but positively enjoyable.

Oh and in amongst all that, there was space for some quality hoofing, too. Alex MacDonald pretty much summing up the whole PMJ enterprise by first demonstrating beyond peradventure that large audiences are incapable of clapping in time to anything, before then channelling the spirit of Fred Astaire in a virtuoso tap-dance routine, accompanied – of course – by the music from Super Mario Brothers.

Closing with a pounding full-cast encore medley of What is Love and Lulu’s Shout, the whole show was a delicious reminder of an era in which jazz’s raison d’etre was to ensure that as many people as possible had a damned good time, which the 1500 or so people in the Corn Exchange very audibly made known they had. And, most excitingly, it was a reminder of the deep link between said good time and exquisite, top-drawer showman- and musicianship. Scintillating, in fact. And fun!

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