We’ve all wished at a certain point that we could have lived in the past — especially when things aren’t going so well in the present. On Wednesday night at Bing, the lively ensemble of Postmodern Jukebox’s national tour indulged our every nostalgic yearning.
A rotating music collective made up of more than 70 different performers, Postmodern Jukebox was founded in pianist Scott Bradlee’s living room in 2009. If the size of the group doesn’t already set it apart from other bands, the fact that the group creates vintage covers out of the hottest pop songs makes it a revelatory and standout musical endeavor. A viral sensation on Youtube, the group continues to post a new video every single week, creating every cross-genre cover you can think of, from a 20s Gatsby-style “Bad Romance” all the way to a goosebump-inducing vintage take on “Creep.”
It has been refreshing to witness firsthand how Bing is branching out to invite musical acts and performers who might not normally perform in such a grand concert hall. For as soon as the emcee for the night, Mario Jose, came running out onto the stage, it became clear once again that Bing was meant to be an incredibly versatile performance space. Addressing all four sides of the audience, Jose pumped everyone up, acknowledging that even though we were in a concert hall, he wanted us to treat the night like a rowdier, more intimate affair. His implied promise of a more casual, celebratory atmosphere stayed true the entire night, with an ensemble (all of whom have performed in the Youtube videos) of six musicians, five singers and one dancer all prancing around the stage in various combinations.
Among these performers, a few stood out: Chloe Feoranzo, who started out playing the tenor sax in the back of the stage, quickly drew every audience member’s eyes as she switched effortlessly from the sax to dancing, singing and playing the clarinet. She and trombonist James Hall (who looked very much like a trombone himself with his tall and lanky frame), had adorable chemistry, as they elected to coordinate slightly embarrassing dance moves like the “sprinkler” in the little breaks when they weren’t playing.
Dani Armstrong entered her first song figuratively on fire, wearing a floor-length red dress that unapologetically flaunted her ample chest and was exactly the same shade as her hair. Just her appearance, which was carefully calibrated to be both classy and over-the-top, would have been enough to make me a fan, but as soon as she opened her mouth and her resonating, belting voice came out, everyone was a goner.
Tap dancer Anissa Lee was a one-woman dancing machine, her feet moving faster than the drummer’s hands (at one point, they had a good-natured rhythm battle, and Anissa won by far). Singer Casey Abrams, who has hipstered up significantly since his American Idol days, charmed everyone with his long, luxurious curly mane of brown hair and perpetually grinning face. He still amazes me with his unique, lower-range growl, his falsetto, his well-trained jazz scatting and his grooving stand-up bass solos.
In fact, although Chloe and Casey were the only true singer-musicians, the entire ensemble was impressively interchangeable. And I don’t mean replaceable — I mean the way in which Dani finished an enormous solo, casually walked backstage, quick changed into another stunning dress and then walked back on and immediately assumed the role of backup harmonies. I mean the way in which Mario went from being an emcee for most of the night to revealing that he too is a singer. I mean the way in which Chloe busted out a clarinet solo while sitting daintily on Casey’s lap in the middle of the front row of the audience.
As a serious musician myself, it was personally delightful to see how every member of the ensemble was given the same attention and prestige as the singers, rather than written off as accompaniment. Each musician was given a chance to show off his/her skills during the encore, and there was an instrumental solo in almost every song of the night. The considerate spotlights for the instrumentalists were not surprising as the founder, Scott Bradlee, is a jazz pianist himself, but it was a welcome sight when this equality is still rare in the modern music scene.
At a later point in the show, while the group was performing Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” the stage was in a state of chaos. Casey walked around the front of the stage holding his stand-up bass over his head and playing it at the same time. Chloe and James serenaded the backside audience, tossing their heads, clarinet and trombone for dramatic effect. The guitarist threw his fedora into the crowd and head-banged, and two of the singers danced to their own song with the pianist. In this deconstructed state, the performers were exactly in tune with each other, able to move around the stage with a dexterity and unreserved composure that is enviable and belies the amount of work and preparation they each put into getting to where they are today.
It is significant that I’ve gone through this whole review without mentioning a word about the covers themselves (a speedy “Stacey’s Mom” and the “Creep” encore were the most memorable). Although it was the covers of modern pop songs that propelled Postmodern Jukebox to stardom, seeing a live performance was so much more satisfying than the rather stilted YouTube videos. The ensemble, with their easy, breezy performing attitudes, have struck the ideal balance of nailing every note while not taking themselves too seriously. Judging from the way everyone walked out of the hall with a bounce in their steps, Postmodern Jukebox’s infectious energy and genuine enjoyment in their own music had put everyone in a good humor for the rest of the night.
Check out Postmodern Jukebox on YouTube here.
Contact Andrea Lim at anlim ‘at’ stanford.edu.