This magazine doesn’t often give critical attention to cover bands, but Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) is more like a reinvention of the whole concept of a cover band. Pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee became a YouTube sensation by pulling together musician friends to perform hit tunes by artists like Lady Gaga and White Stripes in radically different genres, most often thirties-style jazz and swing; it’s like Coachella by way of The Cotton Club. These days Bradlee’s productions are packed with guest artists eager to play to the channel’s three million-plus subscribers, and the videos have become gorgeously produced jaw-droppers. For Thanksgiving, the band delivered a finger-poppin’ version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” that plays out in a single long take, as the camera dollies through an elaborate Thanksgiving party populated with a bevy of singers (including three “American Idol” alumni). But the group’s virtuosity transcends video effects, which is why seeing them live is a pretty safe bet. A honky-tonk “Livin’ On a Prayer” or a jazz-ballad “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are their own selling points. And there’s visual whammy of the pre-digital variety: one of the channel’s most popular videos is a cover of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” in which one-woman-band Gunhild Carling not only croons the tune in a seriously dramatic diva-cut gown, but accompanies herself on ten separate instruments—at one point playing trumpet and bass simultaneously (you have to see it to believe it), at another making some righteous noise with three horns and only two lips. No camera magic, just vaudeville brass and brio. The trick to pulling this off in front of an audience is a complete lack of irony and a surfeit of innate charm. And, of course, absolutely razor-sharp musicianship. Postmodern Jukebox checks all the boxes.
February 3, 8pm at The Riviera, 4746 North Racine, rivieratheatrecom; $36-$41.
Author: Robert Rodi
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena.” His jazz quintet recently completed a two-year residency at Uncommon Ground, and he regularly hosts a jazz singers’ jam at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge. His literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.