BWW Reviews: Postmodern Jukebox Entertains in their O.C. Debut Concert

There is a very good possibility that many of you have seen or heard of the terrific musical collective known as Postmodern Jukebox across one or more of your preferred social media platforms. These clever and talented viral-video/YouTube sensations have likely shown up on yours or a friend's Facebook wall---no doubt ecstatically captioned with glowing praises for their uncanny ability to take a contemporary pop hit and reincarnate it into a superb, vintage-flavored songbook standard from the last century.

The brainchild of arranger/pianist/musical genius Scott Bradlee, Postmodern Jukebox's primary raison d'être has been to repurpose today's radio staples (think Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Lorde, Nikki Minaj, etc.) and infuse them with the sounds that are more likely to be found in your grandfather's old vinyl record collection: old-school jazz and ragtime standards from the 20's, 30's and 40's, croony doo-wop tunes from the 50's, 60's rock and R&B anthems, or perhaps even sultry 70's soul jams. Just like with their popular videos, each song in PMJ's live concert bridges the gap between generations, providing fresh, yet familiar-sounding tunes that can be enjoyed by all ages.

BWW Reviews: Postmodern Jukebox Entertains in their O.C. Debut Concert

Imagine a Beyoncé or Britney Spears song reworked as if they were earmarked for Louis Armstrong, Scott Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, or Nina Simone---and accompanied by a rousing mini-big band that sounds like a cheekier Benny Goodman orchestra on Red Bull. The results? Refreshingly educational, absolutely irresistible, and, most important of all, genuinely entertaining.

To purists, genre snobs or simply the uninitiated, yep, it all sounds like gimmicky schtick, right? But, man, one listen... and then another... and then another... and, I guarantee, you can't help but declare that it all just frikkin' works! Every bit of what they do is pure ear candy---mixed with a whole lotta sass.

Undeniable proof of Postmodern Jukebox's growing popularity and entertaining prowess can certainly be summed up by the enthusiastic reaction that the group received during its recent one-night-only tour stop at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, marking their debut concert in Orange County.

Full of vibrant energy, lively humor, and incredible, unbelievably great vocal performances, their truly exuberant concert---presented as part of the Center's annual "Off-Center" Festival---had a somewhat intimate party feel, even though the massive concert hall was almost at full capacity and the cheers were about as loud as a One Direction stadium concert. Rather, the vibe of the show felt as if a bunch of your talented musician buddies invited you over for a casual, kick-ass jam session in some dude's living room. Naturally, the packed audience of varying ages couldn't get enough (many patrons even came in their dapper best to play along with the night's vintage motif).

The evening began with a pre-show routine from flapper dance troupe LA Follies (a recurring background presence throughout the night) before the evening's affable host, former American Idol finalist and beatbox wünderkind Blake Lewis stepped out to welcome the audience and to introduce Bradlee and his fellow bandmates. Playful and cheeky, Lewis provided lots of humorous banter and even acted out some old-school "radio commercials" from modern-day services such as Tinder and Uber. Occasionally, he even stepped in front of the mic to provide lead or background vocals.

Judging from the evening's set list, Bradlee and company truly understand their knowledgeable audience. They are so completely plugged into the pop culture zeitgeist that their variety of chart-topping covers are diverse enough to satisfy every era and taste preference: everything from Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande to Guns N' Roses and Imagine Dragons. Heck, even the familiar theme music of HBO's Game of Thrones gets the PMJ treatment!

Part of the pure enjoyment of the concert is the giddy discovery of each song's identity after hearing just the first few lines of the lyrics. How fun it is to hear a ragtime riff only to realize as it goes on that it's an Iggy Azalea pop hit.

Though Bradlee is clearly the head impresario of the concert---pounding like a shy but mad genius behind the keys all night---he lets the spotlight shine mostly on his fellow musicians and, particularly, his roster of incredibly talented vocalists: Bawdy sexpot Ariana Savalas; beautifully raspy, noir-jazz stylist Christina Gatti; and the group's special guest, Broadway belter and soul music recording artist Shoshana Bean. The three powerhouse women prove to be the concert's biggest stars, each providing their own distinguishable performance style that works well not only with the type of music being explored but also the particular pop song they're reinventing live on stage.

The flirty Savalas---channeling the ribald delivery of Jessica Rabbit, Mae West, Eartha Kitt, and even a little bit of Cabaret-era Liza---triumphs in sexy-fied versions of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" as well as in covers of Iggy Azalea's hit "Fancy" and BlackStreet's "No Diggity." Meanwhile, Gatti---a master with slow-burn torch songs---is blessed with a deep alto that is equal parts tender and playful, yet with hints of longing and melancholy. Her covers of Britney's "Womanizer," Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love," and Ariana Grande's "Love Me Harder" are some of the most unique-sounding reboots you'll hear.

As for Bean---good lawd, this gal can saaaang. Already one of the musical theater world's favorite "Elphabas" (from WICKED, of course), this flawless-sounding, remarkable soul diva feels right at home with PMJ's vintage sounds. Along with her slinky soul viral hit cover of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," (which she thankfully recreated for the concert), she also blessed the audience with outstanding, jaw-dropping covers of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" and Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off."

But, frankly, you haven't truly lived until you've heard Bean belt the heck out of Sia's "Chandelier" live---which was, in her hands, an emotional, euphoric tour de force of live singing. No autotune or studio manipulation here, kids. Just pure, unfiltered vocals bursting with power and pathos. Wow... and I mean, WOW. #RiffsForDays, y'all. (Need evidence? Click HERE for a brief listen) It's no wonder she earned the sole standing ovation for an individual performer that evening (though to be fair, the entire show certainly deserved a standing ovation---and indeed got many of them in the end).

For his part, Lewis reminded the audience what made him such a charming Idol standout: his impressive beatbox skills. His individual solos, which included re-worked covers of Magic!'s "Rude," Wham!'s "Careless Whisper," Nickelback's "How You Remind Me," and Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" were also very enjoyable (the latter also turned into a fun sing-along).

Speaking of enjoyable, there were also plenty of spontaneous moments of joy in Postmodern Jukebox's concert as well. In one of the most stunning moments of the night, Bradlee---demonstrating that music really can be bridged together across generations---asked the audience to shout out different band names or styles of music. Among the suggestions, he took Hall & Oates, Bruno Mars, Ace of Base, and the theme song from the TV sitcom All In The Family and combined them all to create a seamless instrumental piano mash-up on the fly. Damn, he's really good.

Another surprise? Out of nowhere (and without so much as an intro or warning) some uber-joyful dude bounced onto the stage and started to dance and rock out all across the stage with unbridled delight as the singers sang on. For many familiar with PMJ's videos, though, the guy is not just some super-enthusiastic fanboy, but rather a welcome, familiar face within the PMJ roster. Known simply as the "tambourine guy" (because, well, he's got a tambourine) this adorkable bundle of hyperactive energy is also known as Tim Kubart. His sheer elation was genuinely infectious and adds another jolt to the already festive proceedings.

By the end of the evening, when the trio of ladies took turns taking the lead in Meghan Trainor's global hit "All About That Bass" (which served as the night's "encore") the audience couldn't help but yearn for more. Those in the audience who were unfamiliar or weren't fans of the group before certainly turned into autograph-seeking fans by the night's conclusion. And why not... these guys may not look like typical rock stars, but their undeniable talent certainly makes you feel like they deserve bigger stardom than they already enjoy.

I foresee these awesome performers easily filling up the Hollywood Bowl in the very near future, frankly. Quite simply, these insanely talented cats really know how to put on an enjoyable, entertaining show that multiple generations can share and celebrate openly with no qualms. Clever, fun and brimming with compelling talent, Postmodern Jukebox reminds us of the beauty of un-engineered music and the coolness of artistic expression.

Even after two-plus hours of non-stop music, I didn't want the party to end. Here's hoping this won't be PMJ's last time in Orange County.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photo courtesy of SCFTA.

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For the latest music videos, information and tour dates for POSTMODERN JUKEBOX, visit www.postmodernjukebox.com.

POSTMODERN JUKEBOX was a presentation of Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Annual OFF CENTER FESTIVAL. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.

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From This Author Michael L. Quintos

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