Saturday, December 19, 2015

Postmodern in Retrospect

First let me say we had a blast. It was that much fun. The talented gang from Postmodern Jukebox can really put on a show, and they know how to have fun doing it. Much later I'll eventually get around to my one regret.

Our local venue, the Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale, was just about the right size for the sold-out crowd, and not so big that the performers got lost in the distance. Scott Bradley was absent for this stop on the road show, but stand-in Todd Shroeder did a great job of pounding out those honkey-tonk beats. From the moment the cast ran onto the dark stage, and then erupted into a spirited rendition of "Fancy," the energy never let up.

It's hard to believe I've only been a fan and following them for six months. In that short time I went from an infatuation with "All About That Bass," through collecting all their albums -- they put out eight of them in the space of a year -- and watching their 100+ Youtube videos (a new one every Thursday), and finally to a live performance.

Meanwhile my friends have had to tolerate me going on about them every chance I get, and I've lost track of the number of times I've said "just watch this" to another hapless victim. Fortunately most everyone has liked what they see, and my wife joined me in becoming terminally enthralled with the whole scene.

If you know them at all, you might be wondering by now who did we see? PMJ, as they're known for short, includes a current roster of around 40 singers and instrumentalists -- a talented pool from which smaller groups are formed. So of course we didn't see everyone, and there's no way they could do every song, but there were plenty of gems performed by some of their most prominent artists.

Both bass players -- Adam Kubota and Casey Abrams -- were on hand from the "All About that Bass" video, so that one just had to be done, although only one of the three female vocalists was present (Ariana Savalas), so the other parts were done by Robyn Adele Anderson and Joey Cook. Those guys really rocked the bass solo, where they both play the same instrument simultaneously, and the tune is a smash every time, regardless of who's singing.

Of course Robyn had to reel off her classic rendition of "Thrift Shop," which might contain more words per minute than any other song as she rattles them off too quick to follow. The crowd got a charge out of it even though we already knew the gag lines: "How much do you think I paid for this dress?" she asked. More than one voice shouted out "Ninety-nine cents!" and "Bag it!"

And I was delighted that new addition Joey Cook was there to do her version of "Delilah," in which she helps herself out on both ukulele and accordion. (Funny how these once outre instruments are sounding hip again.) She also added a gag by nodding her head in the direction of the uke when she came to the line that says "I'll pay the bills with this guitar." A few in the balcony were chanting "Jo-ey! Jo-ey!" by the time she was done.

Dance? Did someone mention dance? Sure, we had that too. Tap artist Sarah Reich was on hand to hammer on her piece of amplified floor. This girl is a living percussion instrument. To prove it, at one point she did a dueling competition with the drummer where they imitated and tried to one-up each other as he applied his sticks to the same surface she was tapping on.

One of the several tunes Sarah performed to was Lady Gaga's "I Want Your Love," sung steamily by Ariana Savalas. How steamily? Well, in the middle of it she came down off the stage to work the crowd in the front row. "What's your name?" she asked one man. Then, immediately snatching the microphone back, she added, "Never mind, I don't care." She then went into a long monolog about women in show business who get ahead by using SEX, it's disGUSTing ... and all the while she's leaning further over the aforementioned lucky man until her bosom was directly in his face. I hope he enjoyed it as much as everyone else seemed to. Then she was back on stage, and Sarah went back to work for the finale, culminating in Ariana's trademark whistling. A knockout!

And let's not leave out the role of the energetic MC, taken by Mykal Kilgore, whose own solo on "My Heart Will Go On" seemed bent on proving the human voice is capable of reaching the stratosphere. There's a wonderful video online of him performing this in a TV studio in Australia, and the hosts of the show are practically exploding when he's done because he so completely blew their minds. You think that was high? How about we take it up a notch...

Even the wind players had their moments in the spotlight, as each was introduced and did something wonderful and single-handed with their instruments of choice.

What's left? A grand finale, then an encore, with a few from the audience invited to come up and dance with a cast member. Ariana danced with that fortunate fellow from the front row, showing it was all in fun. Then the ritual taking of the cast selfie with the audience in the background -- my wife and I might even be in it, way in the back.

We left sated and totally happy. What's not to like?

Well, I said there was one thing. It's all about the sound. I'd never heard them live before, and was really hoping that the wonderful attention to detail evident in the recordings and Youtube videos would mean that even in performance they would strive for the kind of clarity that jazz buffs expect.

Alas, the demands of the crowd and the need for VOLUME meant that the bass was too strong, the horns too weak, and the voices too often overwhelmed by the accompanying din. As in this photo I took, you get the glitz and the fun, but some of the finer points are blurry and poorly defined.

There. I said it. But with that one caveat, for which they can be forgiven in the interests of the gods of entertainment and populism, I still had a great time. Would I go again? Absolutely. But next time I'm definitely springing for one of those seats in the front row.