Where: McPherson Playhouse, 3 Centennial Sq.
When: Sunday, June 11, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $94.50 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
It’s grainy, by today’s standards, which makes the nearly six-minute clip look disproportionately primitive. But it’s there for the viewing, on YouTube, where it was first posted 14 years ago by a young musician from New Jersey named Scott Bradlee.
“Classic 80’s Hits… Interpreted for Ragtime Piano” is how the video is titled, and that’s essentially what you get: Bradlee pounding out an instrumental medley of songs on his red Nord Stage 3 keyboard, by everyone from Madonna and The Police to Journey and Bon Jovi. It was an unexpected hit.
The success of the video prompted Bradlee to quickly change course (he was on the verge of quitting music altogether) and dive more deeply into the novel approach. From a basement in Astoria, Queens he created Postmodern Jukebox, whose unconventional covers eventually became big draws on YouTube. Since 2011, videos by the collective have amassed nearly two billion views on the streaming service.
Cover versions of unlikely source material by Metallica (Nothing Else Matters), Radiohead (Creep), Guns ‘N Roses (Sweet Child O’ Mine), and The White Stripes (Seven Nation Army) are among the 415 videos Bradlee has created for the band’s YouTube channel, which is less popular (but no less inventive) today.
Bradlee, 41, now lives in Nashville and isn’t doing interviews for the Life in the Past Lane Tour, which brings Postmodern Jukebox to Victoria this week for the third time since 2017. The bandleader does not tour regularly with the group, and though he still arranges the music and oversees the execution of it, he has the company set up in such a way that members can rotate in and out of the line-up — including himself.
“It’s really all about the music,” said Postmodern Jukebox creative director Sunny Holiday, who, like Bradlee, is not appearing with the band for performances at the McPherson Playhouse on June 11 and Nanaimo’s Port Theatre on June 12.
Holiday would not divulge what songs, new or old, would turn up on the setlist for the upcoming Canadian tour, choosing instead to leave the song choices as a surprise. Postmodern Jukebox “will be embracing new music and embracing new things, but trying to stop and take a breather and enjoy that pace of this bygone era,” she said.
“Scott’s arrangements and the amazing talent that we get to work with — that’s really what our fans love.”
Fans certainly get their fill: Organized chaos is the guiding principle behind the radical big band, whose membership has featured upwards of 150 performers and guests during its 12-year lifespan. That size and scope is more in-step with a Broadway show than a touring band; Holiday said there are 11 performers headed to Vancouver Island this week, including the emcee for the evening, red-hot soul shouter Rogelio Douglas, Jr.
“It’s just intimate enough,” Holiday said of the band’s current tour. “We want it to feel like a supper club, but we also want it to feel like the biggest vintage party you’ve been to all year. We used to send out so many people, but people actually like to get to know each artist. All of our featured artists get plenty of time to spend with the audience.”
Holiday, a burlesque performer and singer from New York City, helps create the film noir-ish set pieces that serve as visual reinforcements. The members of the company are always snappily dressed, and the stylish videos that populate Postmodern Jukebox’s active YouTube channel are part of a broader vision, according to Holiday.
“We want it to feel a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.”
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: email@example.com