Having begun in humble fashion in the basement of founder Scott Bradlee with the musicians reportedly paid in felafel sandwiches, PMJ has accrued over one billion views on YouTube since 2009 and has shows touring intensively and simultaneously in the States and in New Zealand.
What an astonishingly high octane night in the Great Hall! From the get-go, the wonderfully camp and thankfully schmaltz-free version of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On exploded on stage with giant fun and fizz. Clearly the programme wasn’t truly just music of the 1920s because these were versions of current songs with a jazzed up and cabaret vibe. But with en pointe wardrobe and some touches of Art Deco on stage, we were reminded of an era when jazz was all about forgetting your troubles and having a damn good time.
And hey this audience was up for it. This crowd was dressed in flapper dresses and sequins and ready for the show. Packed to the rafters, the full house clearly knew about PMJ and were back for more. Some were partying in the aisles fuelled by perhaps more than one glass of bubbles and definitely caught the eye of the MC who even sneaked a visit amidst the second-half craziness.
PMJ have returned to NZ five times in five years. Thankfully the sound quality was greatly improved from their 2018 visit, the balance with the band sound came through well. Just some more clarity on the MC’s microphone would have been welcome because the repartee was part of the fun. Master of Ceremonies Casey Abrams (who held his own next to Jack Black in 2011’s American Idol) kept up comedic joins between the songs in the first half, abandoning that for a looser format in the second half. And it got pretty loose by the end...
The performance was bouncing off the walls... It was “Pop to Barbershop” on party poppers.
The excellent band were as tight as a drum led by original PMJ member Adam Kubota on bass, an utterly brilliant Tom Jorgenson on drums, Jeremy Viner delivering excellent licks on woodwinds, the very stylish PJ Floyd on trombone and Reggie Berg on an upright piano with all the chops going on.
But, oh, the five vocalists. Four of them have solo careers but tour with PMJ as well. And here is where the show delivered generously - not just one star and a couple of backing singers but five star singers!
Hannah Gill’s Be My Girl was stunning, this is one of the best jazz voices I’ve heard in recent years. A brilliant duet setting with Abrams of Gnarls Berkley’s Crazy revealed Gill’s sheer beauty of tone.
Aubrey Logan unleashed a huge Bennie and the Jets with a vocal range from female equivalent basso profundo to an incredible whistle register, with belt, growl and sweet tones in between. Then Logan cartwheeled, picked up a trombone and delivered some terrific sounds.
One of the best versions of Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful was delivered by the very chic Robyn Adele Anderson.
Ensemble singing also rang true with Meghan Trainor’s All About that Bass displaying the female vocalists’ ability to sing close harmonies in style.
In addition to great musicians, a star turn of the night was the dazzling tap-dancing of Demi Remick. With a face like Judy Garland and the (maybe daintier) feet of Fred Astaire, Remick lit up the show.
The two male vocalists also gave hugely entertaining performances. MC Casey Abrams was a performer even without singing a note. An individualistic version of Creep proved he could sing alright and brought down the house. And to cap off the evening, David Simmons Junior (winning an online competition in 2018 to perform with PMJ) finished the night with a persuasive Motown version of Don’t Let Me Down.
And this is where things turned truly Gnarls’ Crazy, with a bubbling over of fun into perhaps choreographed craziness. The performers tore off around the stage and up the considerable steps to the mighty Town Hall organ lit in psychedelic purple. The entire troupe of singers and musicians piled on the floor of the stage for a few whispered bars before leaping to their feet to shouted a final ... “Auckland Don’t Let Me Down!”
The crowd certainly didn’t feel let down, every face had huge smiles as they left Auckland Town Hall that night and I know there will be a stampede to buy tickets if there is a Postmodern Jukebox 2020 tour.
Catch PMJ in other shows across New Zealand until 20th October (Regent Theatre, Dunedin). Tickets available at Postmodern Jukebox website.