Images by Lara Blake PhotographyI love nice surprises. Most people do. So when I received two tickets to see Post Modern Jukebox (I’ll just write PMJ from now on) at the O2 Apollo in Manchester, from my lady wife as way of a birthday gift, I was very surprised. I didn’t even know they were coming on. Double the surprise. Of course, I and many others – up to half a million of us a week according to PMJ creator Scott Bradlee – watch the PMJ videos on YouTube. So with only a week from receipt to use, I crumpled the tickets tightly in my fist with great excitement.
The uniqueness of the PMJ brand is to marry up modern day R&B, Hip- Hop, House and chart hits lyrics to retro, pre 1950 arrangements, written by Scott Bradlee. Drum machines and auto-cue technology is thrown into the trashcan and replaced with a five piece band of piano, bass, drums, saxophone and trombone accompanying the contemporary lyrics with swing, ragtime, jazz and samba beats as well as other yesteryear grooviness, giving these tracks a completely new lease of life. Some of them are unrecognizable with their refreshed retro arrangements and are quite unidentifiable until you reach the more noticeable lyrics of the chorus. Such was a version of ‘Womaniser’ by Britney Spears and ‘The Thong Song’ by Sisco. Cry Me A River, the Justin Timberlake version from 2002, was Judy Garlandesque in its delivery, sang by the virtuoso falsetto voice of Von Smith… a performance that left me quite open-mouthed.
At times you could have been watching a fanciful New Orleans’ street funeral or Jessica Rabbit melting the microphone in a New York, prohibition hooch den. During one song, with all performers included, so much mayhem was abound it was like being at the Edinburgh Festival. All five musicians came to the front of the stage a couple of times, like they were merely busking in the park and of course each were given the chance of the obligatory and what turned out to be a somewhat modest named introduction and solo. Rasping trombone, fourhanded bass playing and a pianist, who surely had three hands, had me shaking my head at just how good these guys are. All five of them on their first PMJ tour.
The whole show was hosted by Ariana Savalas, who with naughty one-liners and crowd-pleasing innuendo, called each new singer on to the stage as well as banging out songs herself. She even performed a burlesque lap dance for a chap she had brought up onto the stage from the stalls, whilst the sax’ player played the clarinet, wearing a full rubber horse mask!
Every other song could easily have been included in the encore at any 1920s Vaudeville cabaret show and they just kept coming and coming. With the songs broken up by gags and costume changes a plenty, tap dancing routines and front stage monologues, I felt like I’d sat through a Broadway musical.
Believe me, when PMJ return to rock the joint, we’ll need a bigger boat.