Let me start off by saying that I’m not a big fan of cover bands. Now, if the majority of the members of a certain outfit have passed on, such as The Beatles, then I suppose seeing a meticulously-recreated troupe like “The Fab Four” might be the closest this generation gets to experiencing the Lads from Liverpool.
But bands that cover Meat Loaf (“Dashboard Lights”) or KISS I just don’t understand. No disrespect to the musicians, but why see a KISS cover band if you can still see KISS, live?
What if Justin Timberlake recorded in 1938?
A few months ago a buddy of mine turned me on to this intriguing little ensemble called Postmodern Jukebox. Founded in 2011 in Brooklyn by pianist Scott Bradlee, the band has amassed a huge following through weekly video postings on Youtube.
Taking contemporary pop tunes and arranging them in different traditional early-to-mid-twentieth century musical styles, the band has over two million followers on Youtube. Torch songs, New Orleans-style jazz, ’50s doo-wop, and even Big Band Swing all make up PMJ’s retinue in a rotating touring group that has over sixty musicians on the payroll.
Monday night, Bradlee’s band played the House of Blues. No less than six (!) vocalists, piano, drums, clarinet/tenor sax/dancer/vocalist Chloe Feoranzo (shout-out to a pint-sized powerhouse), trombone, upright bass and guitar, all manged to fit comfortably on the main stage. Emcee and vocalist Mario Jose took vocal duties on the Celine Dion ballad “My Heart Will Go On” from the 1997 film Titanic. Employing a male voice and an upbeat late ’40s sound really morphed the Oscar-winning song, much to my surprise. It was a throaty, largely up-tempo version of a tune that’s meant to evoke sadness and a little nostalgia for the doomed Jack as Rose hogged the whole floating door. He totally could have fit on the piece of wreckage.
Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” was re-imagined as a slower torch song with multiple singers taking on the vocal duties. Upright bass player Casey Abrams got in on the action as well, seductively plucking the strings throughout the tune.
Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine” was reinvented as a full blown jazz song, straight out of a Nawlins speakeasy at the height of Prohibition.
*NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” was vastly improved upon due to the vocal complements of singers Brielle Von Hugel, Dani Armstrong and Robyn Adele Anderson. What a show stopper.
The audience, many donning period attire, was seated in a non-traditional playhouse-style approach. There was no pit and wine glasses replaced the ever-present beer-soaked floor at most HOB gigs. They were clearly having a ball; whenever tap dancer extraordinaire Anissa Lee came out and applied her taps shoes to the Masonite flooring or Nick Finzer’s trombone mute kicked in, the crowd ate it up.
Music is all about reinvention. Slave spirituals became intensely personal gospel songs and that, over time, morphed into Rhythm and Blues. Rock was born from the angst of pissed-off white teenagers who appropriated the traditions of African-American music.
Perhaps, Postmodern Jukebox is the next evolution in music?
If so, count me in.
But, please, leave the Bob Seger cover bands at home.