Originally featured at http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=73352
When I was a kid, variety shows were all the rage on the telly. It seemed that TVNZ had unlimited green to waste on The Billy T Show, Howard Morrison specials and endless features with Prince Tui Teka and Ray Wolf. I hated them, mainly because most of the material tended to lean toward Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. I was more into punk at that point. Poor TV show band knock-offs were definitely uncool.
Of course, those fading entertainers once had great careers in show bands like the Howard Morrison Quartet or the Volcanics, and if you care to look up their archives you’ll find some stunning performances – mainly covers of current pop hits but all done in their own style, with just a hint of local flavour.
In exactly the same mould, but with a heapin’ helpin’ of New York chutzpah, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox project redoes the contemporary repertoire with vintage flair. Once again they return to our shores with an audience positively brimming over with glee and excitement to have them back. The last time this Youtube sensation played in the Capital was 12 months ago at the Bodega, essentially a harsh concrete box more suited to hard rock acts than an American-style orchestra playing 1920’s ragtime, swing and Lounge versions of the top forty. But the word has spread wide across Wellington’s hip community and they have booked out the town’s premium seated festival space Shed 6. There was a fair amount of respect in the room with many punters decked out in Betty Page dresses, bouffants and 1940’s hairdos, fox furs, blazers and porkpie hats, and plenty of tweed and cheese cutters. Clearly, these people were here to party. And what a jam. PMJ are first and foremost a SHOW BAND, baby!
MC’d by the charismatic and super talented LaVance Colley the ensemble rattle through a radical mix. Any other time a covers band tried this they fall flat on their tushies. But not PMJ. When you hear Creep done as a Kurt Veil torch song or Casey Abrams delivering Sweet Child O’ Mine performed like a Joe Cocker impression performed by Andrew Strong you know this is different. Even Colley’s own interpretation of Celine Dion’s abomination My Heart Will Go On works when its rearranged as Motown soul song. Who knew?
Colley has the sweetest voice, reminding you instantly of Ceelo Green, of whom he pays homage to by wiping the floor with him on a very righteous interpretation of Forget You. He also nails Rhianna’s Halo, which definitely works better with the Barry White treatment.
The PMJ ‘family’ now boasts over 70 singers and players who jump in and out of the bill depending on commitments so you never know you are gonna get. This time interchanging between songs is done by Robyn Adele Anderson, Melinda Doolittle, and Christina Gatti who blow the cobwebs off a slew of numbers once claimed by Katie Perry (Roar), Queen (Another One Bites The Dust), Rhianna, Miley Cyrus (We Can’t Stop), Macklemore (Thrift Shop) – all ripping with more attitude and sass than Jessica Rabbit, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and China Phillips put together. Doolittle’s awesome vocals on the Radiohead number, in particular, stopped traffic for sure. But you can’t discount Anderson’s class or Gatti’s stylish burlesque reworking of Ms Spears’ Toxic and or her remake of Womanizer as a vintage Peggy Lee platter.
There are of course some brilliant moments of theatre like tap dance king Alex MacDonald breaking out a tattoo of Vanilla Ice’s famous number, or saxophonist Stephen Spencer killing Careless Whisper or his trombone sidekick wandering off into the Flintstones theme rethought as a Glenn Miller tune. Or drummer Chip Thomas playing ragtime versions of hip-hop beats on demand and then there’s a magical Liberace performance from the band’s Scott Bradlee stand-in on piano. Completing the line-up musical director Adam Kuboto get in on the action when he shares his bass with Casey Abrams during a frantic version of Meghan Trainor’s All About The Bass. It’s yet another moment of pure entertainment. Shame that wasn’t a feature of those crappy TV knockoffs I sat through in the 80’s.
The whole thing wraps up with another song I detest but somehow it just works – a Broadway take on Sorry, without the bombastic DJ noodlings and the Beib’s syrupy vocals. It works a treat, proving once again that with the right arrangement anything might just fly. Assuming the band has the stuff to pull it off, of course! My only regret: Puddles the Clown couldn’t make it so Lorde’s Royals is left off the setlist. Probably best, considering. Tonight had a touch of class and oozed style and real talent. No wonder the all-ages audience found their way in. They know a good night. And that’s a fact.
Note: one of my photos featured in the Melbourne Morning Papers: https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/32686943/no-scott-bradlee-but-his-postmodern-jukebox-still-spins-the-hits/