Postmodern Jukebox Retro Rocks Keswick Theatre With Rollicking Vintage Music - Review

Postmodern Jukebox in the perfect setting - the 1920s Keswick Theatre with its Art Deco marquee.

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox - known colloquially as PMJ – roared into the Roaring Twenties-era Keswick Theatre in early August 2019, bringing its Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour to Greater Philadelphia, in suburban Glenside, Pennsylvania, right outside the city.

The genre-bending, decade-shuffling musical collective has the perfect name, as it is fundamentally, exactly that – a postmodern jukebox.  A YouTube phenomenon, Scott Bradlee has parlayed his videos into an incredible musical collective.  It now has a Las Vegas residency and simultaneous tours, which has traveled to six continents and attracted devotees from all over the world. 

Part of the fun of PMJ, is that you don’t know who you’re going to get at any individual show.  So when Robyn Adele Anderson – whom MC Alex Nunio described on stage as “the original siren of PMJ” and its first-ever star vocalist – walked out on stage early in the first set, there was a huge cheer from the crowd. 

And when “Tambourine Guy” – a/k/a Tim Kubart, a Grammy-nominated performer – and the source of the high-octane energy in many of its most popular videos – emerged, the cheers redoubled.   Most PMJ fans would have been thrilled to see either, let alone both, in a single performance.

It was a night of energetic, enjoyable, boisterous, kinetic entertainment.  It was very clear that PMJ loves doing what they do, making music and presenting it in extraordinarily engaging, exhilarating ways.  The performers made the audience feel as if they were part of the show.  (This came true, literally, for one PMJ enthusiast, as we’ll describe below.)  They went out into the crowd, and it made the gathering as intimate as playing a 1,300-seat venue can be.

When MC Alex Nunio walked around and addressed the crowd, he brought a genuine sense of invitation to the fans, that we’ve all been invited to this rather cool, retro-rock party - one that just happened to comprise well over a thousand people in a 1920s theatre.  His hosting was superb, as he introduced all of the performers, both the vocalists and the musicians, and made it clear that everyone was on stage was contributing to making the evening as memorable as possible.

Our favorite song of the evening was, naturally, “Call Me Maybe”, which was one of the original videos that launched Robyn Adele Anderson and PMJ to stardom (it now has 16.5 million views on YouTube).  Robyn Adele Anderson was the original face of PMJ, and has been blessed with considerable talents.  She has an outstanding voice, incredible stage presence and is a natural entertainer.

There also was a genuine humility about the performers.  In particular, when Robyn Adele Anderson thanked the crowd for being there, and for making PMJ possible in the first place, it was easy to see why PMJ has the almost-mystical relationship with its fans that it enjoys, and how it is has grown so exponentially.  They didn’t seem like rock stars, like demi-gods and goddesses.  Instead, they seemed like regular, albeit very talented, people who have had the incredible opportunity to tour the nation and world doing exactly what they love (and doing it at a level of extremely high quality, it should be noted).

The Keswick was the perfect setting for PMJ.  The legendary theatre, opened in 1928, looks every inch the part of a Roaring Twenties theatre.  Specifically, it was constructed to be an attraction itself.  The murals, the art, the grand stage, the old-fashioned marquee with giant red letters added by hand, all genuinely evoke a time when entertainment wasn’t exclusively on screens. 

You stream into the Keswick for a live show, and there are no bad seats in the 1300-capacity theater.  And while movies have been part of the Keswick since its inception, it wasn’t exclusively movies at the beginning, and nowadays it is concerts and comedy.  There is something about live entertainment, and live music in particular, that is particularly compelling.   It brings back memories of a time when these all-controlling ubiquitous screens didn’t dominate our lives. 

And PMJ was, speaking candidly, one of the best live shows we’ve ever seen.   They could be said to be the ultimate cover band, but that would be selling them far too short.  They are recording artists in their own right, taking contemporary pop, or hip-hop, or grunge, or dance songs, from this decade, the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s songs- and reworking them as if they came from the Roaring Twenties, or the World War II era, or Motown, or the Rat Pack, or the Swinging Sixties (and a score of other genres too numerous to mention). 

There are cascading ironies here.  At its inception, PMJ only existed on YouTube, and now – thanks to the 4.1 million subscribers it has on YouTube - it exists live, playing a theatre that originally showed live entertainment, shifted to movies and is now back to live entertainment.  Taking in the magnificence of the Keswick setting, we tried to imagine explaining to a 1928 attendee exactly what PMJ was, how it came into being – “these movies that you see, 80 years from now, anyone with a camera can make one themselves…” and so forth…

PMJ fans are also encouraged to dress in vintage clothing for the concerts, and some did, wearing ‘20s or ‘40s clothing, the women in polka dot dresses and hats with veils, the men in fedoras and old-fashioned suits.  And PMJ fans are zealous.  For several we spoke to, it was not their first concert, and they were from all over the region.  One couple travelled down from Connecticut, in fact.

There was nothing like the “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift grand finale, performed by the entire cast, however.  Tambourine Guy emerged with a second tambourine, and the performers ran into the aisles to offer one lucky attendee the chance to be on stage.  Fortune smiled on the designee, who was Matt Mutarelli, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Mutarelli, sporting a PMJ T-shirt, went up on the Keswick stage with the other tambourine, and did his best Tambourine Guy impression, while the original leapt onto the piano to continue rocking the night away.

This was Mutarelli’s fourth trip to see PMJ; he and his significant other said that they had originally seen the band as part of a lineup at MusikFest in Bethlehem, and had loved it.  When asked what it was like to up – unexpectedly - on stage rocking with PMJ, he replied, “It was the greatest feeling in the world.  There’s nothing else like it.”

The Keswick Theatre

We highly recommend the book Images of America: The Keswick Theatre, to get a feel for the Keswick experience.  Authored by general manager Judith Katherine Herbst, it is a remarkable chronicling of the many lives of the Keswick, which has continually reinvented itself – which is why it had the opportunity to celebrate its 90th year of existence in 2018.  It was, simply speaking, the best possible venue to see PMJ – itself a tribute to the variety of entertainment the Keswick has offered during its long and storied history.

The town of Glenside, with Keswick Village at the heart of it, is also a throwback to an earlier time, with restaurants and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor right down the street.  So this evening – and indeed, any evening - at the Keswick, does give you the sense of stepping back into the past – all of its desirable characteristics, the nostalgia of the walkaround small town and an intimate venue.  PMJ played it in February, and it was such a good fit that they returned five months later.  Hopefully, the Keswick will host them again soon.

PMJ will be returning to Greater Philadelphia/eastern Pennsylvania on November 22, with its Christmas tour, A Very Postmodern Christmas, in Bethlehem in the Lehigh Valley.  You can get more information at the Postmodern Jukebox web site.

The Keswick hosts a variety of musical acts and entertainments, and its Art Deco furnishings and Tudor Revival appearance is an attraction, in and of itself.  It is right outside the city limits in Glenside, and is easily accessible by both car and SEPTA – the Glenside train station is nearby.  You can get more information on the upcoming engagements there by visiting the Keswick Theatre web site or calling the box office at 215.572.6750.

The Set List

Note: part of the fun of PMJ is that with an opus of, by our count, 370 songs and counting, you never know what you will hear.  This happened to be at Glenside, but it doesn’t mean it will be what you hear somewhere else.  There can be different artists, and as PMJ likes to note, “it’s never the same show twice!”  So we’re not giving anything away here.


The Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 Tour Set List

First Set

1)    “Thriller” – Michael Jackson – with tap by Alex McDonnell

2)    “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses - Miche Braden – “a force of nature”, as Nunio put it, and she is.

3)    “Somewhere Only We Know” – Keane – David Simmons, Jr., the winner of the PMJ 2018 Talent Search contest

4)    “Fancy” – Iggy Azalea – Robyn Adele Anderson (with the local shout-out, replacing the lyric from “from L.A. to Tokyo” to “from Glenside to Tokyo”, drawing a laugh from the crowd!)

5)    “Video Killed the Radio Star” – The Buggles – Seth Johnson

6)    “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper – Miche Braden

7)    “Hey, Ya!”- OutKast - Robyn Adele Anderson – and the emergence of Tambourine Guy!

8)    “The Middle” – Jimmy Eat World

9)    “All About that Bass” – Meghan Trainor - Finale, Cast – (Note: one of our favorite PMJ album titles is “All About That Upright Bass”!)

Second Set

1)    Tap Solo – Alex McDonnell

2)    “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” – Jet

3)    “Say Something” – A Great Big World – Robyn Adele Anderson duet

4)    “Old Town Road” – Lil Nas X/Billy Ray Cyrus – Miche Braden

5)    “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen – Robyn Adele Anderson, plus tap

6)    “No Surprises” – Radiohead - Duet with bassist and Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet

7)    “My Heart Will Go On” – Celine Dion (Titanic theme) – Robyn Adele Anderson and David Simmons, Jr.

8)    Piano Solo

 

Encore

1)    “Creep” – Radiohead – Miche Braden

2)    “Shake It Off” – Taylor Swift -  Cast

The bottom line: A high-energy performance.