In a city as musically diverse as Asheville, it’s easy to be picky about what bands and musical genres you pay to see. Seldom does a concertgoer find a crowd as diverse as the one at The Orange Peel for Youtube-sensation-turned-touring act Scott Bradlee’s Post-Modern Jukebox.
The show kicked off with a rabble-rousing introduction from emcee Wilkie Ferguson, who likened PMJ to “‘The Lawrence Welk’ show with more twerking.” What followed was variety performance in the mold of a 1940s radio program, with commercial breaks for “sponsors” and banter between Ferguson, Bradlee, and various members of the group.
Vocalist Maiya Sykes joined Bradlee and his four-piece band for the first tune, a ragtime rendition of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” complete with tap dancing virtuoso Sarah Reich in flapper garb to compliment Sykes’ brawny vocals. Ariana Savalas followed that with a cover of Brittany Spears’ “Womanizer,” evoking a smoky jazz-noir that had tattooed hipsters singing along in the crowd. Savalas played up her sexpot persona, flirting with the crowd throughout the song and eliciting tons of laughter.
Not to be outdone, Morgan James stepped onstage and blew attendees away with a Motown-style makeover of Maroon 5’s “Maps,” extending notes beyond what one might think was humanly possible.
Reminiscent of crooners like like Frankie Valli and Sammy Davis, Von Smith took the mic to blaze through the Magic! song “Rude,” followed by Sykes singing a New Orleans-style take on John Legend that would make Aretha Franklin pause and take notice.
Among the show’s many highlights, Sykes’ version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” in the style of the late Whitney Houston, and a group effort by all three female vocalists on MKTO’s “Classic,” sent surges through the packed auditorium. The finale, a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” literally had the floor shaking.
“This whole thing started in a basement in New York City with a Youtube subscription and a few talented friends,” Bradlee remarked halfway through the show, before he dove into a crowd-solicited medley of Black Sabbath, Billy Joel, Weezer and The Beatles. Popular tunes played ad nauseum on the radio — Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Katy Perry’s “Roar” come to mind — are given fresh life by PMJ, simply by removing the bubble-gum wrapper to reveal the essence that all music shares, then re-dressing them in ermine furs and a smear of kohl around the eyes.
“By coming here tonight, you’ve changed the station,” announced Ferguson at one point. “You’re allowing us to live our dream.”