LIVE: Postmodern Jukebox @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 2/22/19
Review and photographs by Elissa Ebersold
Postmodern Jukebox, much like my spirited marriage of photography and music, is the passionate intersection of two diametrically opposing musical motifs: the old genres and the new. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is where new songs, whether by Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus or Nirvana, meet vintage arrangements in the stylings of Nat King Cole, Patsy Cline, The Chiffons, any Rat Pack member, or anything of the like. Not only are the rotating vocal talents of this ensemble of quite the caliber, but the big band backing brings as much enthusiasm and skill to the table as one could need to make these arrangements seem authentic. There are no small roles in this band.
I don’t recall how I first heard that PMJ was rolling into town, but I knew that I had to get in on this show. If the show was going to be anything like the hundreds of videos they’ve posted on YouTube, it was going to be a vibrant, loud, energetic show.
The first task of any concert is a lot of research. While some bands are easier to contact than others, it sometimes can take a lot of digging (or dare I say it, internet stalking) to get a hold of some of the band’s manager’s and publicist’s names. PMJ was no exception. Eventually I got a hold of their manager and out went my cold emails. There were a few exchanges, and he was very pleasant and seemed on board. Weeks went by as I waited for confirmation of my press pass. A follow-up here, a follow-up there. Alas, radio silence.
Sometimes that happens, and that’s okay. If I send a few follow-ups and I don’t get a response after the third one, I drop it. There is always another show. However, the week of the show I received an email: “Sorry about the delay! I think I opened this and forgot to mark it unread […] You’re all set!” There began the mad scramble to round up all my memory cards and charge up the camera batteries, like I was some kind of decapitated chicken.
When the show rolled around later that week, I was quite excited. I had molded my new custom ear plugs, I had my new lens, and I was ready to roll. I’d never been to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and the architecture appreciator and art historian inside of me was not disappointed. The gorgeous pastel color palette, the chandelier, and the magnificent wall of pipe organ set against the back of the stage possibly made me want to hear the organ more than the headliner.
As the bodies filled the seats, I could tell that this show was not going to be an ordinary concert. People filed in wearing flappers and zoot suits, and if they couldn’t find (or make) flappers, instead they modeled feathered headbands and sequin-adorned dresses. They sparkled like the crystal pedants dripping from the brass arms of the chandelier.
The house lights dimmed and the sold-out show came to order. I waited, perched in the orchestra pit (ie: directly in front of the poor concert-goers who paid extra money to sit front row) stage right and waited. The blue stage lights turned red, and the show began.
For me, this show was different for one big reason. It wasn’t the fact that I was the only photographer, or that I had free-reign of the concert hall from top to bottom. It wasn’t the sweat dripping down my forehead, or the pain in my thighs from ill-advised positions, or the cramping arms and aching wrists from lugging a heavy lens around. It was the energy of the audience. I don’t mean the way they treated me, but the way they were swallowed up by the music. The music hall is all assigned seating, no general admission. When people were up and dancing in their seats, or as a select few did, slow dancing in the aisles, I knew that this was a special experience.
To add to the fun and flirty atmosphere, as if he was hired specifically for that purpose, “American Idol” contestant and Tony Award nominee Constantine Maroulis emerged from the stage doors as a special guest. He sported his signature smoldering pout, gyrating hips, thick locks of Grecian hair, and noisy shirts, making the women in the audience swoon. He leaped down from the stage, trailed by the white of a questing spotlight, and found a woman in the third row to serenade. He put his hands in her hair, practically grinding against her as he sang. She looked like a schoolgirl, cheeks flushed and a wide grin playing across her features. It was quite a sight to behold. Dare I say, I even found myself wooed just a little bit — I made eye contact with the man more than a few times (this happens a lot when you’re standing directly in front of a musician with a lens as big as your arm basically in their face.)
Like I said in the beginning, the energy was there from start to finish. The band was drinking on stage, enjoying the beers that someone in the audience bought for them and the unidentified cocktails in the mixer and booze in the decanter on stage.
The performers were excellent. The women were vivacious and sultry. The men (as previously mentioned) made all the ladies squeal and swoon in delight. The costume quick-changes were a feast for the eyes, with each vocalist in a new outfit with every change of song. The satin, the color, the glitter, the gorgeous, the patterned and paisleyed all contributed to a feeling of being in some high class speakeasy with the most beautiful of human kind.
All of the songs were fantastic, but the real star of the show was the stunning powerhouse Dani Armstrong. Clad in a curve-hugging black and white ballgown with wings, she performed a soulful haunting rendition of Sia’s anthemic masterpiece “Chandelier.” It pulled the breath from the lungs of everyone in the audience, myself included. Gooseflesh pricked my skin, and I was so immersed that I forgot to take pictures. I just wanted to bask in her magnificence. There’s some part of me, in the professional area of my brain no doubt, that regrets not taking photos, but I don’t regret getting to experience the raw power of her vocals. The standing ovation she received at the end was one well deserved.
PMJ was a concert experience that I hope every music lover gets to enjoy someday. It is a show for the old, the young, and the fans of any genre of music. This love of music, this bringing together of the seemingly polar opposite, is something well-worth experiencing, and something we could all use a little of.