Mesa, AZ — The 2020s are eight months away, and what better way to usher in a new decade than by paying homage to the former that gave us one of America’s greatest musical art forms: jazz.
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) is an expert at evoking nostalgia with the musical styles of bygone eras with contemporary artists’ songs. PMJ brought a party filled with glamour, gin, and jazz to the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center on Wednesday night with their “Welcome to the Twenties 2.0“ world tour.
Vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson opened the night with a 1920s take on “I’m So Fancy,” originally performed by pop artist Iggy Azalea. She was accompanied by tap dancer Matthew Shields who tapped in time to the beat and showcased his fancy footwork.
Master of Ceremonies and vocalist Dani Armstrong was a sight to behold in her black and gold art deco dress and magenta hair. Armstrong wiggled her way around the stage with a sensuality and naughty coyness as she performed a jaunty rendition of “Oops, I Did it Again” by Britney Spears, accompanied by jazzy trombone and saucy clarinet.
She introduced the six-piece band comprised of Jesse Elder on piano; Adam Kubota, one of the original members of PMJ, on upright and electric bass; Dave Tedeschi on drums; Jacob Scensney on trombone; Mike Chisnall on guitar and banjo; and Chloe Feoranzo performing on woodwinds.
PMJ introduced some new faces and fresh voices on this tour. Ryan Quinn, who was a contestant on the The Voice, performed Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in a low and soulful baritone voice, emphasizing the lyrics, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?”
And newcomer David Simmons Jr. was PMJ’s 2018 talent search contest winner, performing on his very first tour with the group. He entered the stage smartly outfitted in a silver vest and jacket and punchy red bow-tie, performing a jazzy “Something Only We Know” by Keane. For this piece, Kubota swapped his upright bass for an electric bass, Chisnall traded his banjo for an electric guitar, and Feoranzo traded her clarinet for the saxophone.
Armstrong once again took the stage after changing into a sensual black and red gown to perform Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as a punchy, swing-time jazz number, including scat lyrics and a wailing trombone.
Shields came out to tap dance for the number, keeping time during a break in the song and showcasing his skills. Armstrong and Shields’ flirtatious antics brought heat to this already sexy song.
The show moved quickly and seamlessly, keeping the audience enamored with the energy, vocals, and music of the performers, despite the simple lighting and lack of any modern special effects.
Every song was a treat with unexpected hilarity. Anderson walked out on the stage in a white floral swing dress, with Quinn and Simmons in tow. She sang lead vocals, covering Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” with Quinn and Simmons singing back up. The gentlemen’s animated antics and girlish falsetto when responding to Anderson’s, “Hey Ladies!?” had the crowd laughing.
Afterwards, Simmons treated the audience to a slowed-down version of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” transforming the song into Motown soul, with his vocals akin to that of The Four Tops.
Right before the intermission, five musicians commanded the audience’s rapt attention by leaving their posts and coming front and center with their instruments. They started playing an acoustic set and Anderson sashayed across the stage in a slinky satin leopard mini dress. She began singing Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” and was joined by Armstrong’s powerhouse vocals for the chorus, including some yodeling as she worked the stage in her tiger striped wiggle dress.
During this set, Feoranzo stepped out from behind her clarinet and approached the microphone, surprising the audience with her perfectly pitched vocals in addition to her multifaceted musical talent. It was empowering to watch a talented trio of women representing a variety of shapes and sizes.
The men created comic relief with Shields tapping to the beat and Quinn putting his arms around his chest, spinning his fingers to mimic twirling tassel pasties. The audience was clapping along and reeling with laughter. It was a great way to conclude the first half of the 120-minute performance.
Kubota talked about the raw beginnings of PMJ: how it all started in Scott Bradlee’s basement apartment in Queens, and how they were paid in falafel. It was the brainchild of Bradlee to put these musical reconstructions on YouTube in 2009, so people with “really, really, really fantastic taste would watch and share and come out to see the shows.”
PMJ knows how to cater to their audience with references to modern pop culture. After the intermission, Elder brought the audience back to focus by playing the Game of Thrones theme song on the piano with force and bravado.
As the audience quieted, Armstrong commanded their attention, floating across the stage in a stunning black and white gown, then lifting the top layer of the skirt like wings above her head. She opened the second act with a dark, operatic rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier.” Armstrong’s vocal range for this set was mind-blowing. The audience gave her a standing ovation.
Now, it was Quinn’s turn once again to transport the audience through time. His ability to mold with the group’s aesthetic so effortlessly couldn’t have been more perfect. He performed a Sinatra-esque rendition with scat vocals of “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake. As he left the stage, Armstrong instructed the audience to, “blow a kiss to seven feet of gorgeous!”
As the audience watched Quinn leave, Simmons took the stage quietly, now donning a navy three-piece suit. Anderson emerged in a sparkling silver gown and black opera gloves. They performed a flawless, intimate duet of “Say Something,” originally performed by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera. The way they looked into each other’s eyes as they sang made it feel as if, for a moment, they were the only ones in the theater.
Their performance tugged at the heartstrings, and to bring the energy back to the show, Shields tap-danced out to center stage and announced, “It’s-a me!”, imitating the character Mario from Nintendo. He then tapped out the Super Mario Bros. theme, accompanied by Elder on the piano.
Exhausted halfway through his tap set, Shields walked back to the piano, chugged the rest of his beer as Elder played the power up jingle, and miraculously, he was back! Shields finished out the tap sequence to the music played at the end of a Super Mario level, finishing with a mimicked jump on a flagpole as Mario would do at the end of a level.
Anderson came out in a black and blue brocade strapless gown and her elbow length opera gloves. Her soft, sensual voice tantalized as she sang, “…Never gonna dance again the way I danced with you,” from the song “Careless Whisper,” originally performed by the late George Michael. Feoranzo stepped forward and performed a stunning sax solo, paying homage to the original, but expanding on the song’s film noir vibes.
“The decade before the 1920s was full of conflict and upheaval. But without that, we wouldn’t have gotten all the great art, dancing to hot jazz, and drinking bootleg gin!” Armstrong exclaimed.
Feoranzo closed out the show as the last solo vocalist, performing “No Surprises” by Radiohead, with her clear, angelic voice. She was joined in gentle accompaniment by the piano, guitar, upright bass, and drums, and then stepped in to play her clarinet.
The 11-person ensemble wrapped up the show with everyone on stage singing a medley of songs blending from one right into another, starting with The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” then Haddaway’s “What is Love?” and finishing with The Isley Brothers’ “Shout!”
It was a free-for-all on the stage: Shields was tap-dancing his heart out, Elder cartwheeled across the stage then somersaulted back to his piano for the finale, the musicians moved freely, and the crowd got on their feet to dance to this final number.
Kubota said this is the group’s third time playing out in Mesa and that they can’t wait to be back. And gauging the audience’s turnout and participation, it can be confidently said that they will always be welcome, with their nostalgic take on modern pop and high energy performance that emulates the vaudevillian lounge acts of bygone times.
To usher in the 2020s, Postmodern Jukebox will circumnavigate the globe on their 2019 “Welcome to the Twenties 2.0” tour.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Postmodern Jukebox – Mesa Arts Center 4-17-19
Photography © Reagle Photography
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