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Published: 2018/07/02
by Reanna Feinberg

Postmodern Jukebox at Britt Fest

Postmodern Jukebox began as an internet sensation of YouTube videos from Scott Bradlee’s re-compositions of popular songs into musical styles, primarily of the 1920’s to 1970’s, and has now expanded into a variety show of incredibly talented rotating artists performing these reinvented arrangements live.

So, if you’ve ever thought, “Gee, you know what would make this night complete? Harry Potter theme music performed in a jazz style with a tap dancing percussion solo.” Or, perhaps you prefer a sultry doo-wop version of Britney Spears’ “Bye Bye Bye.” A vintage Motown version of Taylor Swift’s, “Shake It Off.” Heavy metal hits in ragtime swing. A Pop song from the 80’s sung by a lounge singer in full elegant garb, too thickly draped in creative conundrums for any grand piano to hold without delving into an existential exploration of its own identity…then you’re in luck, someone has, finally, filled this niche.

It was a musical experiment that did something wholly unique without one original song. Something immeasurably creative with tools all drawn from the past. It also exposed the chosen popular songs in a raw, naked window. Words that were never meant to see the light of day without a blanket of quick, heavy dance beats, and catchy pop, rock or R &B accompaniment, stood with deconstructed threads in slow, patient, long-held enunciated articulation. Like pulling up a well-loved carpet to discover wood floors beneath, they demonstrated that the bones of a good song were there no matter the design. With the carpet pulled back from the musical covers, the artists took full license with wearing the costumes themselves…adding another layer of artistry to the performance by looking the part of the instrumentation’s era.

The host for the evening, in ring master fashion, announced (after performing an alluring jazz rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”) that we’re going on a journey back in time and bringing along some favorite artists. Scott Bradlee has described the music as: Pop music in a time machine…gramophone music for a smartphone world.

Lacking context of the original songs, the music was simply exceptional, controlled vocal and instrumental skill echoing another era. With context, original songs like Gangsta’s Paradise, Creep, What Is Love and others, from artists like: Kelly Clarkson, Metallica, John Legend and many many more, donned a new outfit that stretched into creative re-appropriation of art in auditory motion. Every song gave the original a run for its money and sent a few straight out the door.

Piano, drums, upright bass, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, a tap dancer, tambourine and an array of vocalists all mixed genres, decades, musical styles and mediums. Gospel, Americana, soul music played patty cake like hands that were born to know one another. A clarinet played swing rock. The upright bass bounced between four hands simultaneously dismantling sound from every inch of its strings during “All About That Bass.” Olivia Kuper Harris gave a sultry, guttural vocal rendition of “Last Friday Night” in a soulful 40’s jazz style—complete with a back-and-forth scat between her on vocals and Alicia Lee tap dancing. Her character also changed outfits (as they all did many times) to transmit Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe in an operatic, belting-it-out rendition of Britney Spears’ “Oops, I did it again.”

Casey Abrams performed in a wild animal let loose, hide-your-children, this man has forgotten his meds fashion…and thank goodness, because how else could he have exuded a Janis Joplin exorcism with such distinct moments of clear talent mixed with Jim Morrison’s fall down inebriation, still singing into the microphone on his back as Jacob Scesney stood above him rocking the top half of a dismantled clarinet? Playing the vocal roll of an entire band, Abrams slow-rolled notes as the lead and back-up singer, skipped his own voice like a scratched record, and wove it with wolf-howled Sinatra through metal in “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” before unleashing himself into the crowd with a tambourine assault.

They closed the night with a round robin encore taking turns playing snippets of popular songs in unfamiliar landscapes. Music can be many things. The high level of professional artistry, skill and creativity of Postmodern Jukebox elevated music into one of its higher forms: the ability to inspire an entirely new way in which to think and view the world, utilizing beauty, skill and innovation.

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