REVIEW: Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox at Cambridge Corn Exchange, enough energy and soul to get the squarest spiv tapping his spats

PUBLISHED: 09:05 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 09:22 28 February 2019

Hannah Gill from Postmodern Jukebox with Adam Kubota on double bass

Hannah Gill from Postmodern Jukebox with Adam Kubota on double bass

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Youtube sensations and now favourite UK live act, Postmodern Jukebox brought their trademark vintage reworkings of classic pop and rock songs to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Thursday, February 21.

Youtube sensations and now favourite UK live act, Postmodern Jukebox brought their trademark vintage reworkings of classic pop and rock songs to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Thursday, February 21.

Their current world tour, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0, is ushering in the next decade by adding a touch of retro class to contemporary pop in the form of jazz, swing, ragtime and Motown arrangements, with enough energy and soul to get the squarest spiv tapping his spats.

Established by Long Island born Scott Bradlee back in 2010 with a group of musician friends, the PMJ Youtube channel has now reached 3.8 million subscribers and the rotating collective has performed live in six continents.

It all started when Bradlee, then aged 29, began recording performances in his basement flat in New York as a “creative escape”. He invited the best musicians and singers he knew to come along and realise his vision of “classing up” pop songs. They continued to record together, paid in falafel sandwiches and stripping the drums down to a single snare to avoid annoying the neighbours until their first viral hit took them on tour.

The Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour is currently on the road in both the US and Europe with two outfits of artists.

Presented as an antidote to the hectic superficiality of modern life with its click-bait journalism, reality TV shows and smart phone addiction, Bradlee’s arrangements bring styles of music that have lasted, some for almost a century.

The line-up in Europe is fronted by the charming MC, Lavance Colley whose charismatic showmanship lets you know you’re in for a great night from the off. He is joined on stage in turn by four female vocalists, each with a unique presence and style, a six-piece band including Adam Kubota on double bass, Dave Tedeschi on drums, and Luca Pino on guitar and Caley Carr’s furiously jubilant tap dancing.

Tia Simone, a former contestant on America’s Got Talent, stunned the crowd with her moody, effortless jazz cover of heavy metal band Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters as she glided from bluesy-control into a power-house vocal.

This contrasted with Olivia Kuper-Harris, complete with victory rolls in her hair, whose Sarah Vaughan flavoured singing brought intoxicatingly smooth tones to Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning. A particular treat was her cover of David Bowie’s Life on Mars? which along with the stripped back staccato arrangement of the band was deliciously good.

The first half closed with MC Lavance Colley’s 50s style, up-tempo cover of Toto’s Africa that spread joy through the crowd as he showcased his impressive range and continued to build layer on layer as he was joined by the full company in close harmonies and backed with jaunty keys and punchy brass.

The stand-out performance of the night was 21-year-old Hannah Gill who not only turned the overplayed floor-filler Jet’s Are You Going to Be My Girl? into an utter delight, beginning with a husky vocal that teased its way into full blown sass, but in the second half sang a cover of Habits by Tove Lo that was sultry, heart-wrenching and magnificent.

Wrapped in a white fur stole, Gill begins with a coquettishness a la Betty Boop as she sings of her drink habit to forget her deserting lover, which she flings off as the band kicks in to pack a sassy punch.

Far classier than any covers band, Postmodern Jukebox bring a freshness and sophistication to a wide range of classics. Unlike historical period themed nights that often stagnate in nostalgia, this is very much an outfit for today that has mastered genres from the past hundred years of jazz and popular music.

In some cases where Bradlee has stripped back an arrangement and exposed the lyrics, you might be surprised to find yourself loving a version of a song you thought had been played to death.

As the 1920s English playwright Noël Coward wrote: “Strange how potent cheap music is.”

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