Vintage versions of timeless hits

Scott Bradlee (far left, on keyboards) and his outfit entertained with alternative versions of hits.
Scott Bradlee (far left, on keyboards) and his outfit entertained with alternative versions of hits. PHOTO: ALVIN HO / LAMC PRODUCTIONS

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox rearrange songs from various genres in ragtime, jazz and swing



Kallang Theatre/Sunday

It has been said, most recently in a commentary in The Guardian, that great music is mutable, that a formidable tune can withstand any arrangement in any genre and still stand as a good song. Nowhere is this statement more true than at a show by American ensemble Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox.

Band-leader Bradlee and his touring outfit - four musicians and five singers - took contemporary hits of various genres and reshaped them in the style of traditional pop of the early 20th century.

When you leave out the samples, drum machines, loud guitars, Auto- Tune and other fancy effects, the essence of the songs that they cover are given a chance to shine.

For the most part, the drastic re-arrangements in ragtime, jazz and swing worked and it was surely entertaining to hear Miley Cyrus' We Can't Stop given a doo-wop treatment or Ellie Goulding's Burn done in a 1960s girl-group style.

One of the outfit's most effective renditions of non-mainstream hits was early Radiohead's 1990s alternative rock hit Creep as a piano ballad.

Taking a self-loathing anthem and turning it into a hair-raising paean was no mean feat, and it was accomplished thanks mostly to the vocal acrobatics of singer Maiya Sykes.

There were misses, too, notably the mid-tempo, big-band version of Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine and the gospel-like take on The Darkness' I Believe In A Thing Called Love. Both interpretations took away a lot of the originals' attitude and veered close to becoming caricatures of the two classic rock numbers.

Even if nothing else worked, there was tap dancer Sarah Reich, who tapped her way through a medley that included hip-hop classics such as Salt-N-Pepa's Push It and The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight.

Little wonder then that the outfit's videos draw up to 14 million views for each song on YouTube.

Bradlee's ensemble pretty much made their name online, perhaps finding their audience among the young adults who grew up on a steady diet of American Idol contestants and musical drama Glee dishing out alternative versions of recent hits.

Taking their cues from the band's vintage-inspired threads, many of the men in the 1,500-strong crowd dressed dapper, fedoras and braces included, while the women were decked out in classy dresses.

Towards the end of the 95-minute show, lindy-hop enthusiasts burst free from their seats to dance animatedly in front of the stage, encouraged by the band.

The outfit's mostly sanguine cover versions certainly warranted such zeal and their choice of modern classics proved how timeless many of the originals were.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Vintage versions of timeless hits'. Print Edition | Subscribe