Review - Postmodern Jukebox “Shelter in Swing” Virtual Concert Day 2 Literally Rocks the World on StageIt Platform

Note: This was where we reviewed Postmodern Jukebox live, in August 2019, the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia.  However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the April 4, 2020 "Shelter in Swing" concert, Day 2 was virtual, and took place everywhere.  But there are no pictures, so this one - which at least has the PMJ name on the marquee - will have to suffice!

We live in an extraordinarily dangerous time for the nation and world.   Music, historically, has been one of the most effective ways during a crisis, to bring communities together, provide needed escapism, and remind them of happier times (both in the past and to come).

We are now in the midst of a public health crisis, one that we thought we had banished in the first half of the 20th century – namely, a pandemic of contagious disease.

So what better way of escapism, as we deal with the increasingly alarming, nascent 2020s, to go back to the music of the original Roaring Twenties (and many other decades, to boot!)

In a superbly brilliant idea, Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox decided to stage a two-day, cleverly titled, “Shelter In Swing” virtual concert, including every major performer in the rotating PMJ collective.  Regrettably, we did not learn of the festival until the second day, as we’d have loved to have reviewed both days, and all of the performers.  But half a loaf is certainly better than none.

We would like to give a lot of credit to, the platform which made the virtual PMJ music festival possible. 

We had reviewed PMJ in August 2019 (the idyllic days of yore when we had never heard of COVID-19), at the historic, majestic 1920s-era, Art Deco/Tudor-style architectural masterpiece Keswick Theatre.  A throwback to the Golden Age of entertainment, the Keswick has given its name to the town square of Keswick Village in Glenside, Pennsylvania, a suburb just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. (You can read that review in its entirety here.)

While, of course, nothing can match the energy, enthusiasm, and overall boisterous atmosphere of a live PMJ show, this was the best virtual music concert that could be imagined under quarantine!

The platform was set up that it was pay-what-you-can, and tips were encouraged.  The Twitter feed would constantly be showing tips thrown in (in order to tip an artist, you had to set up an account with StageIt, which was quite easy).

Here are the roster of performers from Friday’s concert, which lasted over 4 ½ hours, in chronological order!

Scott Bradlee (welcome)

Ariana Savalas

Morgan James

Sarah Reich

Maiya Sykes

Aubrey Logan

Dani Armstrong (with Mike Chisnall on guitar)

Kenton Chen

Joey Cook (with husband Evan Higgins on xylophone)

Blake Lewis

David Simmons, Jr.

Brielle von Hugel

Therese Curatolo

Scott Bradlee (concluding remarks and performance)

(Due to the fact that we learned about the Day 2 concert shortly before it began, as well as our internal technical issues, we unfortunately and regrettably did not see Bradlee’s opening remarks and performance, and most of Ariana Savalas.    But the system platform was awesome, and once we were on, we could see and hear everything and everybody perfectly.  Much credit should go to StageIt, for creating a system that a first time user could use perfectly and doing so under time pressure!  (And we’re sure Bradlee and Savalas were awesome, anyhow!)

A quick explanation of how StageIt works- although it’s been around for several years, this is a godsend for the COVID-19 era, as it permits virtual performances by many artists, across many genres, while we all endure quarantine.   We highly recommend it, if you’re looking for virtual live entertainment while under lockdown.

In addition to the performances, there was a running commentary, a la Twitter, both from PMJ performers and staff, and virtual attendees about the concert.  The basic format, which PMJ announced in advance, was that certain performers would be on in a certain time window. 

In practice, what it meant was basically a 15-minute performance by each PMJ member, from the comfort and safety of their residence.  Everyone was getting their 15 minutes’ worth of fame, so to speak. They would each do three songs, and then hand it over to the next performer.  In between performances, there would be an intermission with a blank screen.  

During these times, the running commentary was very entertaining, with constant shout-outs from fans, and PMJ performers hailing each other’s work.   It was also helpful for anyone with technical difficulties, because they would ask “Is __________ on yet?” and if they were, someone would tell them which button to press.  And if you missed a song for any reason, you could scroll back up and check to see what it was, or ask someone.  The intermissions were also helpful, to run to get a drink or pay attention to the needs of one’s pet, etc.  (Also, for this reviewer, it was great being able to watch “Shelter in Swing, Day 2” on one computer, while typing notes on another, in real time.)

Also, PMJ did their best to make it seem like a live show.   For that reason, it wasn’t recorded anywhere and so you can’t watch it online, which really made it seem like it was in person (if you got up, you missed something!).  There was also the fact that we knew the performers were live, so it made the social distancing seem less distant, so to speak.   It was the same as a live show, it was just via a different medium.

The general approach for every performer which we saw, was a mix of their signature PMJ classics, from the online PMJ videos and live tours, and their own solo albums, with their original music.  This was fantastic, because you had the opportunity to hear them share their own creative work, and to hear it live.

So, the set list:

Ariana Savalas

Her final song was a PMJ song – Taylor Swift - “Blank Space”.

Morgan James

She did a piano version of PMJ – Maroon 5 - “Maps”.

Her own music was from a new album called Memphis Magnetic, and she performed one songs – “All I Ever Gave You”, a soul, bluesy ballad.

And she concluded with PMJ – Hozier - “Take Me to Church”.    

Sarah Reich

The tap-dancer in residence, she performed a couple of songs from her album New Change, and concluded with PMJ – The Evolution of Tap (a PMJ “joint” as she called it…

Maiya Sykes

She did her signature PMJ song, the soul version of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” (another song that has a much more sinister meaning nowadays).  She concluded with what we think was “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night, but we weren’t certain…

As you might imagine, every performer had to be creative in terms of the setting and background for their performances, given that they never in a million years expected to be performing under these conditions.  Everyone did a fantastic job of presenting their homes in the best possible light for viewers.  In that vein, the next two were among our favorites, in terms of the production values that they were able to achieve…

Aubrey Logan

She donned a pair of outlandish sunglasses for her signature PMJ song, a trombone cover of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets”, before doing two songs from her new album Where the Sunshine Is Expensive (hint: LA) – one called “One Three Nine” – called because it’s a musical version of Psalm 139 – and “Laundry”, including a performance of what she termed the “Rinse and Spin Dance”.

She also had a superb setting –a bright yellow background with “Aubrey Logan” in giant letters, and a particularly clear camera.

Dani Armstrong

Of all of the artists that we heard in their entirety, Armstrong only did PMJ songs.  She went with three PMJ classics –

The banjo version of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” – if you don’t recognize the title, that was the soulful, melancholy ballad in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby!

The soul version of Sia’s “Chandelier” – self-explanatory!

A serious soul version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” (another title that resonates a lot differently nowadays…)

Kenton Chen

He had a veritable forest of houseplants behind him, which he joked “are my only friends while in quarantine”.

He opened with a classic PMJ – his cover of Closer – The Chainsmokers / Halsey, before two original songs – “The Times” and “Someone Who Loves Me”.

Joey Cook

She did everything in her power to make it like a live show.  She had a costume change between each one, had musical accompaniment, and even set changes!

She did one of our PMJ favorites….The All-American Rejects’ “Hey There Delilah”, with a ukulele!

She performed an aptly titled original song – “Sick”.

She also did Britney Spears (one of only two artists with multiple covers Friday that we know of) – “Womanizer” on an accordion, in a French café style…

Blake Lewis, the beatboxer

He opened with his  original “Shelter in Swing” beatbox… He had a big world map behind his speakers, which was an appropriate setting for the world crisis…

He did one of his signature PMJ songs- “The Middle” – by Jimmy Eat World, and followed with a song “Trouble” off his new album “Wanderlust Unknown”, which features other PMJ members such as Olivia Kuper Harris, Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart). 

He then went with “Pot of Gold”, a song off his first album.

Lewis concluded with a tribute to the late Bill Withers, singing his classic “Lean on Me”, about as apt a song as you can get nowadays.

David Simmons, Jr.

He did his signature PMJ song, an R&B version of “Somewhere Only We Know”, by Keane.  (Those lyrics also have an apocalyptic ring to them now, as opposed to 2006…

“I walk across an empty land…  this could be the end of everything…”)

He then did a regular version of “Stand By Me”, another song for troubled times.

He sang with a hairbrush for a microphone, and also had a forest of houseplants behind him hanging from the ceiling.  He concluded with another PMJ song,
“Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers ft Daya, which had been his audition song for PMJ way back when!  We had the good fortune to see him perform live at the Keswick, and he’s an outstanding performer in person.

We were a little surprised he didn’t do “This Is How We Do It”, by Montell Jordan, Simmons’s most recent and instant PMJ classic creation.  But we speculate that even though it was on a Friday, this celebratory Friday night dance-club party anthem was probably deemed a little too cheerful for the current situation…  and he only had 15 minutes!   (We love both the original and the PMJ version, by the way.)

Brielle Von Hugel

When she began, she gave major props to her boyfriend/stagehand Bobby Vega, who actually created a really good setting for her – a bright red stage curtain (with lighting) along with a giant upright bass (it looked like an actual stage background).

She opened with her signature PMJ song, “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera (and shared the fact that it was the first PMJ cover of a song by that artist) – and then a pair of original songs, “Selfish” and “Naked”.

Therese Curatolo

Known colloquially as “Reesetea”, she opened with an acoustic guitar mashup of three songs – “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, “Give Me One Reason to Stay Here” by Tracy Chapman, and “Express Yourself” by Madonna.

She followed up with an original song from her album (“that could drop at any moment, you never know, since we’re in quarantine!”, “Ode to a Clown”.  She concluded with an a cappella version of the PMJ version of the Super Mario Bros. theme.

Scott Bradlee

He graciously thanked all of the artists, the staff, StageIt, and the fans.   Fans were clamoring for another festival, and he speculated that perhaps this might be done on a monthly basis.  (One fan – I’d give credit if I knew the person’s name – wittily suggested that the next one could be called “Quickstep in Quarantine”.)  

He noted that there were PMJ tours that had to be abruptly cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.   They were very grateful that the artists had a chance to perform under these highly unusual circumstances, and wished everyone well.   He concluded with a virtuoso performance of Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, another song fitting the moment.

Some links:  for more on Postmodern Jukebox, click here.  For more on StageIt, the platform, click here.

Finally, to everyone in Greater Philadelphia - please respect the social distancing directives and stay home, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay hopeful.