Postmodern Jukebox November 10, 2022 Noorda Center
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
It has been recommended to me that I see Postmodern Jukebox for years. People who know me know that I love great voices. They also know that I’m a sucker for a good cover song. So my friends have told me time and time again that PMJ as they’re often called, would be a perfect fit for me. They were not wrong. From start to finish Postmodern Jukebox had my full attention.
If you’re unfamiliar with Postmodern Jukebox, here’s a quick bio. Originally created by New York City pianist Scott Bradlee, the group performs current pop songs in a throwback style such as Jazz, Ragtime, and Swing. With a deep roster of talented vocalists and an exceptional backing band, it’s fascinating to hear what twist they put on these modern hit songs that you “think” can only be played in their original style.
Before I move on to the concert I want to share my thoughts about the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts. Located in Orem Utah on the campus of Utah Valley University, the Noorda Center, having just opened in 2019, has already hosted some legendary talent. I personally have been in attendance for Grammy Award-winning Mezzo-Soprano, Isabel Leonard, and Tony Award winner, Bernadette Peters. This venue is large enough to host great talents like this, yet intimate enough that there is not a bad seat in the house.
I have a little background in music and theater. In my personal experience, I studied at one school that had an exceptional program but the facilities left a lot to be desired. I studied at another with incredible facilities, including a state of the art theater. And yet the program itself was not great. While I was at this concert the thought came to me, now that the Noorda is there at UVU, they have a venue to match their School of the Arts. I would imagine the experience of studying music and theater at this university is greatly enriched by this impressive venue. Now on with the show!
It was fun to see fans of Postmodern Jukebox dressed up in Roaring Twenties attire. I could feel the excitement between those who have been dedicated fans and people like me who were seeing PNJ for the first time. It was clear right away that this show was going to be a lot of fun. Emcee, or as she titled herself, Femmcee, Ariana Savalas, got the crowd laughing and engaged immediately. Her version of “Bad Romance” was a clear indicator of just how entertaining these arranged songs could be.
The audience immediately fell in love with tap dancer, Ryan Maw. His energy and personality had the audience smiling. Especially when he did a tap dance to the music from the video game Super Mario Bros. Anytime he made an appearance on stage the crowd would cheer loudly.
I loved all of the performers. But it’s impossible not to point out the vocals of Effie Passero. Not only was her voice incredible. And folks, her voice was out of this world incredible. But the songs she sang in this concert were perfect for her incredible voice. Not only were these songs perfect for her incredible voice, but the arrangements of these songs were so well crafted that it gave said incredible voice a place to really shine.
The first of these songs was “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. You have not heard a version of this song like this. I wasn’t sure it was actually this song until about thirty seconds into the song. Her next song was a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. I know what you’re thinking. “This song has been covered sooooo many times!” You’re not wrong. It’s been covered, covered again, and again. It’s been over-covered. But not like this. Not at all like Effie Passero.
She received a mid show standing ovation after this song. It was that good. Oh but that’s not it. She covered another song that gets covered quite a bit. I’ve seen this song covered maybe three or four times this year at concerts. But once again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone cover Radiohead’s “Creep” like the cover I heard from Passero. It earned her another standing ovation. I looked around the venue as people jumped to their feet. People had tears in their eyes. Others had their mouths wide open in disbelief that a human being could produce such a sound. She was amazing.
It would be one thing if Effie was alone in her talent. The show would seem very lopsided. Postmodern Jukebox is filled with so much talent that there was never a lull. There was so much talent in this group. They all have different styles that it’s impossible to compare or even say who’s better than another. Lavance Colley gave Effie a run for her money with his performance of Beyonce’s “Halo”. Drummer, Ray Moore shocked the audience when he took over vocals with his cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”.
I must admit I never saw this version coming and when it dawned on me what song this was, I was so impressed. Gunhild Carling brought comedy to the stage. She was funny, but also really with her amazing talent of being able to play any brass or wood instrument. Including a bagpipe! She did a fun version of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Ariana Savalas really stirred things up in the audience with her version of the Billie Eilish hit, “Bad Guy”. It wasn’t so much the song as the striptease that accompanied the song. I take great delight in observing awkward situations and this was noticeably awkward for many of the very conservative Utah County folks.
Now, the striptease was all in good fun and clearly not meant to push boundaries or offend anyone. I did notice a few peole walking out during this performance. But maybe they just needed a drink of water. It was kinda steamy inside the Noorda for this number. Savalas made her way to the audience and sat on the lap of a lucky fella in the front row. He was a good sport and from my vantage point seemed to be laughing it off. If people were offended it didn’t seem like there were too many. Most people cheered and laughed. I thought it was hilarious to watch people get kinda tense and then give way to the intended fun of the song.
The show went fast. Even with an intermission, I felt like we were just getting started. Song after song, hit after hit, one interesting arrangement after another. I don’t know why it took me so long to see Postmodern Jukebox. But I can assure you that I will see them again. They’re all over youtube and streaming services. Give them a listen. And do yourself a favor. If you like great vocals in a live music setting, this is the show for you.