Of all of the big-name touring YouTube sensations, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox might be one of the most beloved by fans the world round. They’ve played in Helsinki at least twice before, so it was time for us to check them out. We made a trip to Tampere on April 18th, 2018, for their second Finnish show on the European tour.
I’m personally a bit all over the place with PMJ. On one hand, their style is so authentic and genuine, which is fantastic, but I’m not familiar with or don’t like a lot of the songs they cover (being someone who doesn’t listen to the radio). Sometimes that means their covers are way better than the originals, while sometimes it means that no matter what the production is like, I just don’t like the song. So I’ve been curious about seeing them live for a while, but I consider their ticket prices to be way too high. It was high time to see if it was worth it.
You can listen along with the setlist on Spotify here:
One of the first things I found confusing about this band was that they seemed to somehow have two tours going on at the same time. Then I realized that, as a band with so many rotating members, it’s not impossible for them to have simultaneous tours. I was disappointed, however, to see that they don’t have any sort of touring line-up listed anywhere, or at least anywhere that can be easily found. It seems a strange lack of advertising to me.
Unfortunately, the showtimes on Facebook were listed as 17:00-23:00, so I wasn’t sure exactly when I should be showing up to Tampere-talo. Their website said 19:00, so I aimed for that but ran a little late as there was a queue of people for a different show at Tampere-talo in one of the smaller halls on the same night. As such, I arrived about halfway through Dani Armstrong in a pretty, old-fashioned, gold and black dress, belting out “This Love” (Maroon 5). Assuming that was the first song they performed, it was a great start and Armstrong’s voice was powerful and suited the style perfectly.
The band was set up in the classic old-fashioned style in front of a simple curtain, with the piano, guitar, and bass to the left of the drums, and the brass section behind pedestals on the right. They were all dressed in the classy older style, with the drummer, for example, in suspenders over a white button-down shirt and a hat.
Armstrong, who appeared to be hosting the night, greeted the crowd and introduced Rogelio Douglas Jr., sporting a nice gold-patterned jacket that looked straight out of a jazz club. His first song of the night was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, which was wonderful and featured a tap dancer, Anissa Lee, who was a constant highlight throughout the night.
The sound quality was a bit strange, as I started the show off without earplugs; it was an auditorium/theater show, so I assumed the acoustics would be good. However, the vocals were cranked up to rock show levels, while the band was at jazz levels, so there was a severe imbalance. This was really grating for a while, and was improved once I put earplugs in. It’s not a fault, per se, but I don’t think a band like this should require you to use earplugs – these old-timey styles should be heard at a clear level and should not be amped up to 11.
The next vocalist was introduced by Armstrong as someone who captured America’s hearts when she appeared on their TVs: Ivonne Acero. The European tour was her PMJ debut, and her first song of the night was a slower version of “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift. I’ve never heard the original, but this was a very classy and mature production.
There was one face that night that I did recognize from YouTube, and that was Casey Abrams, who came on stage to some piano music and the crowd began clapping immediately. His first song was “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses. The bluesy style was amazing and really got the audience engaged. As a cover of a song I really like, however, I was unsure of my feelings, as it was essentially unrecognizable if you couldn’t hear the lyrics. Abrams even matched the Lee’s tap moves for a short while when she returned to the stage, and a clarinet solo followed. The “where do we go” part of the song worked beautifully in the style as well.
Armstrong then announced the final vocalist, who has a “sultry, low, smooth tone”: Hanna Gill. She was in a silky/satiny red and white striped dress and bowler hat, and her voice was everything Armstrong said. She dedicated the song to the ladies in the crowd, and sang “Are You Gonna be My Girl” by Jet, accompanied by what I believe was some Charleston dancing.
The band was then introduced, each with their own little solo, starting with Desmong Ng on trombone and Andrew Cox on saxophone/clarinet, Dave Tedeschi on drums, Mike Chisnall on guitar and banjo, Logan Evan Thomas on piano, and last but not least, “manbun” (her words, not mine) Adam Kubota on bass (who is also the musical director for the band). Armstrong then turned the music into “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, and shouted, “Get up here, Desmond,” to come and take the mic for a solo.
Gill returned again, minus her hat, to sing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” at a very slow, almost beatnik tempo. Abrams snuck onto the side of the stage and began harmonizing, which was great (apart from the loudness). They were able to trade off lines with ease, and even had a dance together. It’s not a PMJ song that I personally like, but they did a great job of it.
Lee returned and got the audience clapping to an impressive music-free solo. She was then joined by all three ladies for a song that I was almost certain was “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, until they started singing and I realized it was “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. Then there was a slow and highly unusual take on “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons) with Rogelio Douglas Jr., this time in a bow-tie and suit vest, looking again very classy.
Gill returned again for “Habits”, and did her utmost to make use of the whole stage, which was admittedly a little bit big, even for a band of this size. Acero returned after that for “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King – that was an interesting track as well, since Elle King’s style is also a bit old-fashioned in many ways. It worked beautifully in the PMJ style.
Gill, Acero, and Douglas Jr. returned to do a do-wop version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl”, with Gill center stage while the others were doing backing vocals. A drum roll then introduced Armstrong for “Bad Romance”, and a slow piano intro brought Abrams back for a very dramatic take on Radiohead’s “Creep.” This song translates gorgeously into the vintage style without losing too much of the original, and while this wasn’t one of my personal favorites of the night, a good percentage of the crowd gave Abrams a standing ovation.
Kubota was then invited to take the mic. “Tampere, what’s up?” he said, and I was very impressed that he pronounced Tampere correctly – props for doing your research! He went on to say that this was the part of the night where the audience must imagine that he is the best man at their wedding, a little drunk, talking about how much he loves them. He explained that PMJ started in Scott Bradlee’s basement in Queens, where Bradlee had the idea to make old-fashioned arrangements of pop songs. He hoped that if they brought enough world class entertainers together, there would be enough people out there who would want to see it. He then gave a heartfelt thank-you to the crowd, saying that if it was not for the fans, they would not be out of the basement and on stage in Finland. “Thank you so much! See you next time! Kiitos!” he finished.
Armstrong returned then, saying that if the fans keep supporting them, they will keep returning. She also said she’d been checking the audience out all night, and would they like to take PMJ home tonight? The band played a little bit of “Let’s Get it On” with her as she made a joke about taking the band home via merch. Then all the vocalists (minus Abrams) came out to sing another Taylor Swift song, “Shake it Off.” This a song that I usually loathe, but this arrangement is really fun. The Kubota and Chisnall came up to the front from their platform, Lee returned, and Armstrong boogied around the stage.
Everyone in the band was reintroduced once more, each with some solos that sounded familiar – I caught tunes from “Yakety Sax” (a song I never thought I’d hear live, so that was fun), what I think was “The Immigrant Song.” I’m sure I knew the songs that Kubota and Chisnall played, but I couldn’t put my finger on them. Thomas got a good laugh from the crowd by doing the Nokia ringtone for his solo – again, bonus points for doing something special for the locals. Lee was then given the spotlight for some more incredible tap dancing, and then Abrams joined everyone on stage at last. They finished “Shake it Off” and were given a full standing ovation and a lot of cheers for an encore.
Douglas Jr., Gill, Kubota, and Armstrong started the encore with Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t stop”, led by the bass and done in a do-wop style. It’s a nice version of a song I don’t particularly like in its original incarnation, and the three vocalists did a great job of singing together.
The full band then returned for the actual last song, and Abrams came on stage first singing the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, but this eventually transitioned into “What is Love” by Haddaway. This changed the musical style into something more upbeat that got the crowd on their feet, clapping, and dancing. Abrams sprinted up the aisle with a tambourine as the song reached the climax, while the rest of the vocalists came out on stage and Lee did cartwheels across the back of the stage. They began to say/sing, “A little bit softer now,” as the band all slowly fell to the floor. Snoring sounds followed, with Abrams and Kubota to be the last heard before they switched to, “A little bit louder now,” and popped up to jump around. It was a weird, chaotic, and fun way to end the show.
Overall, it’s really nice to know that this type of music can still pull a crowd – or three crowds in Finland. It’s also a plus and a minus to the band that the performers are on constant rotation. On one hand, it means that you might get a totally new show every time. On the flipside though, if there was someone you really wanted to see (like Scott Bradlee himself), or a song you wanted to hear (in my case on this night, “All About the Bass” and “Love Yourself” were the two I wanted), you might be SOL. Still, the former might outweigh the latter if you’re hoping to see the band more than once.
When I do address the issue of their ticket prices though, I’m not quite satisfied. These guys put on a great show, and the quality of the experience overall was incredible. I also understand that they have twelve entertainers on stage to be paid, plus crew, etc, which is more than the average band. However, they are a cover band, so 50€+ for a ticket still feels extremely steep, especially for a show that’s not at a particularly big venue. I think 40€ is the cap I’d be willing to pay for such a band, but I won’t claim to know their expenses and requirements for touring.
Ultimately, I’m really glad that I went to see this show. I think fans of PMJ wouldn’t be disappointed; the performers were certainly worthy of the audience. Even as someone who’s not exactly a fan of the band, it was worth seeing and I’d likely be willing to go again in the future, just to get a unique experience in my live-watching now and then.
1. This Love (Maroon 5)
2. Thriller (Michael Jackson)
3. Blank Space (Taylor Swift)
4. Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns ‘n’ Roses)
5. Are You Gonna Be My Girl (Jet)
6. Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked (Cage the Elephant)
7. Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
8. Straight Up (Paula Abdul)
9. Radioactive (Imagine Dragons)
10. Habits (Tove Lo)
11. Ex’s and Oh’s (Elle King)
12. I Kissed a Girl (Katy Perry)
13. Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)
14. Creep (Radiohead)
15. Shake it Off (Taylor Swift)
16. We Can’t Stop (Miley Cyrus)
17. What is Love (Haddaway)