David Foster Wallace once said, “hell hath no fury like a coolly received postmodernist.” When Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox came to town, they certainly made sure that their reception was anything but cool—and they lit the house on fire. Their one-night engagement at the Strathmore proved that a postmodern approach to music—both Christmas classics as well as newer radio fare—can get a diverse array of people from multiple generations dancing in their seats.
…lit the house on fire…a diverse array of people from multiple generations dancing in their seats.
The Postmodern Jukebox, or PMJ as they’re now enough of a musical juggernaut to go by initials alone, was conceived in founder Scott Bradlee’s basement. Their first taste of fame came via the internet. Yes, PMJ began life as a YouTube sensation. The concept was simple: take modern songs and reinvent them so that they take on a decidedly vintage feel. Think Sinatra does Imagine Dragons, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what PMJ is all about.
During this particular performance, part of PMJ’s holiday tour “A Very Postmodern Christmas,” the performers blended everything from good old fashioned (and some more quirky) Christmas carols, with songs by Billie Eilish, Madonna, CeeLo Green and even the highly identifiable tune most will nostalgically remember from back in the early Super Mario Brothers days—all performed with their trademark jazz lounge/musical noir inspired twist. Audience members conversant in PMJ protocol even knew to arrive in vintage stylings—flapper feathers abounded.
Versus a more traditional concert, the vibe in the Strathmore leaned toward the immersive, inasmuch as it was incredibly easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement that poured out of the PMJ performers. While there were numerous musical numbers jam packed into just a couple of hours, some of the more memorable highlights included a soulful mashup of Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” and “O Holy Night” sung out of the park by Sarah Potenza; a tireless series of tap numbers that showcased dancer Jabu Graybeal’s mesmerizing moves; a rendition of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” which proved that yes, the extremely multi-talented Gunhild Carling can play three trumpets at the SAME time; and the musical stylings of one-time American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis, demonstrating that had Dean Martin beatboxed he just might’ve changed the trajectory of musical history. But that of course is what PMJ is trying to do—change how we understand the hits of today when given their one-of-a-kind deconstructionist treatment.
A few times during the concert, I found myself humming along with a song, desperately searching my brain to try and figure out the original from which it was adapted, only to—a few bars in—exclaim, “oh, that’s what this song is!” (And, as I could hear from fellow audience members around me, I was not the only one engaging in a PMJ-prompted “name that tune.”) It was all a part of the experience. It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s just plain fun. The stage was vibrant, just the right amount of Christmasy and more than adequately funky. Audience participation was at a maximum, encouraging not one but two encores.
The best way that I can think to describe the PMJ experience is a musical experiment that could easily go off the rails at any moment despite how fabulously polished it is—and that is precisely what draws you in; audience members become complicit participants in this no-holds-barred, sing-it-from-the-rafters postmodern interpretation of what musical performance is all about.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“A Very Postmodern Christmas” was performed on December 13, 2022 by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852. For more information on upcoming events at the Strathmore, click here. Strathmore encourages wearing masks inside their buildings. For more on the Postmodern Jukebox, click here.