It’s a musical puzzle.
The song starts, and it sounds familiar and yet… no.
You know the lyrics, but they seem strangely, wonderfully out of context. Wait, what’s that number?
This torch song, which goes from sensual to explosive – is it Radiohead’s “Creep”?
Could this bubbly doo-wop candy be Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”?
And how about the bouncy air that might have had dancers doing the Charleston in an early nightclub? It can’t be “Material Girl”, can it?
Yes in every way, and it was all part of the musical journey through time that Postmodern Jukebox took on Friday at the Garde Arts Center in New London.
As you can guess by the description above, PMJ reimagines current chart toppers as retro tracks. It may sound like a one-note gimmick, but the show went above and beyond to create a night of boundless joy and invention.
Key to it all was the talent of the performers – three singers, six instrumentalists, a tap dancer, a tambourine player (I’m not kidding) and a woman who was essentially a one-woman band.
The singers — Tia Simone, Effie Passero and LaVance Colley — could belt like nobody’s business. Colley, in addition to having a cheeky sense of humor, hit incredibly high notes on “Halo” and “Forget You.” Passero had a deep river and mountain voice, with a magnificent purity, especially in his upper register. Simone exuded diva energy, serving up a powerful voice and moves Tina Turner would kill for; she was a star. All three did a lot of vocal stunts, but they also found the occasional subtle moment.
The group, too, was perfect and in the playful spirit that permeated the evening. As the band members were introduced to the audience, they played Luciano Michelini’s “Frolic,” better known as the theme “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
And then there was Gunhild Carling, who not only sang but also played a variety of instruments. For a brief moment, she played three trumpets – at once, with the mouthpieces all crowded to her lips, and her hands managing to hold them in place and push a few valves at the same time.
Jabu Graybeal has found incredible percussive possibilities in his nimble tap dancing. He even mimicked some Super Mario jumps, as the band got closer to the video game’s soundtrack. In another number, he honed his moves as the musical mix shifted from “In the Mood” to “Sir Duke” to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”
As for drummer Tim Kubart, well, he wasn’t needed. But he added caffeinated energy: The way he danced and smiled was reminiscent of nothing more than Jack in “Will & Grace.”
With its new renditions of “Seven Nation Army” to the theme song “Friends”, the concert gave listeners a new appreciation for old hits – and for the mastermind behind Postmodern Jukebox.
How the band got started: PMJ guru Scott Bradlee was trying to get started as a jazz musician in The Big Apple when he found success in that format instead. He and some college buddies had fun making videos in his basement in what came to be known as PMJ style. A ragtime version of some 1980s tunes got a lot of attention in 2009. But it wasn’t until 2012 that one of the videos went viral: a retrospective version of “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis .
The small idea born in the basement has become a rotating musical collective with different groups traveling the world under the PMJ banner.
PMJ has a lot of fans: The crowd at La Garde was enthusiastic, shouting and clapping. Until next time, PMJ.