Thursday, January 17, 2019
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
It’s not uncommon for a band to update an old tune by giving it a modern spin.
But for Postmodern Jukebox, that process usually goes in reverse.
The unique act is more likely to take a current pop song and rework it into a style that was popular decades ago.
Take “Closer,” the 2016 hit by the Chainsmokers. PMJ adds a plinking piano and turns it into a teen anthem from the 1950s.
Other songs come out of the PMJ machine as sultry nightclub jazz, big band swing or even some ragtime or bluegrass.
Postmodern Jukebox will make its Youngstown debut this month when it comes to Stambaugh Auditorium on Jan. 30.
The act – the brainchild of Scott Bradlee of New Jersey – has been catching ears across the globe for the past four years.
PMJ’s spritely throwback sound first emerged on YouTube as a series of videos gone viral, each choreographed and with the singers and musicians in period costume.
The act has compiled its sound in two albums, “The Essentials” and “The Essentials II,” the latter of which was released in November.
“If you’re looking for a starting point for PMJ, the two ‘Essentials’ collections catch you up to speed on everything you need to know about what we do,” said Bradlee in a news release.
Today, the act is a collective of at least 100 musicians and singers, split into multiple tours playing on three continents.
The contingent coming to Youngstown will feature a six-piece band, with piano and horns, plus four singers and a tap dancer.
Robyn Adele Anderson has been a singer with PMJ since its early days, fronting its earliest viral hits. On the latest album, she sings with a trio of doo-wop backup singers on a finger-snapping version of “Timber,” the 2013 Pitbull-Kesha collaboration.
What: Postmodern Jukebox
When: Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Stambaugh Auditorium
Tickets: $20 to $90; available at the box office, 1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown; by phone at 330-259-0555; and online at stambaughauditorium.com
In a phone interview, Anderson talked about PMJ’s what’s-old-is-new” – or is it what’s-new-is-old? – creative process.
It all starts with Bradlee.
“Scott would have an idea for a song that is popular in the moment, or maybe an older one that everybody knows, something that people will respond to,” said Anderson. “He would play it in a bunch of different styles until we found one that felt right. Scott still arranges all of the songs, but there are so many more singers now.”
All of the musicians in the PMJ family have a jazz background. “But we’ll bring in a banjo player for the bluegrass songs,” said Anderson.
For the live performance, the sound is only the half of it. It’s definitely a stage show in which the look, style and choreography match the era of each song.
“We try to give the illusion of going back in time,” said Anderson. “It’s a combination of modern and retro. You will see it in the costumes and dresses, and there is a tap dancer on hand.”
Postmodern Jukebox has put its spin on dozens of current pop and rock stars, including Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor and Beyonce.
This begs the question: What do they think of it?
From what PMJ has heard, they get as much of a kick out of the reworked songs as audiences do.
“Many of the original artists of songs we’ve recorded have retweeted them,” said Anderson.