“In four years we’ve moved from a basement to the stage,” explained Chris Anderson, drummer and musical director for Postmodern Jukebox. “Our first gig was in a basement in Queens.”
Chris Anderson was in that basement when his fellow player and friend Scott Bradlee came up with the idea of doing some new songs in some old styles and posting them on YouTube. Postmodern Jukebox was born.
“He was talking to me about it, and honestly I didn’t understand it,” said Anderson, “but I caught on, and it worked wonderfully.
Postmodern Jukebox’s current tour makes a stop at Reno’s Silver Legacy Saturday, Feb. 18.
“Instead of taking an old jazz or swing song and doing it in the style of Lady Gaga, we take a Lady Gaga song and do it in the style of an old jazz or swing song. Once the name Postmodern Jukebox came up, and that was Scott again, it clicked. It all made sense.”
Postmodern Jukebox posts one song a week on YouTube and has chalked up more than 500 million views and signed up 2 million subscribers. Each video is filmed live in Scott Bradlee’s living room. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” was the first to go viral, and the range since then has been impressive – examples being The Killers’ “It Was Only a Kiss” performed in 1940s saloon style; Gaga’s “1946” a la big band; and a particularly powerful “Evolution of Tap Dance” with Sarah Reich tapping through the ages from “Maple Leaf Rag” to “Uptown Funk.”
There will be a tap dancer on this tour as well, but whether or not Bradlee will show up is a matter of suspense. He appeared at a recent date in New Jersey, “but we don’t announce ahead of time who will or who will not be on stage. We have lots of singers, and they move in and out.”
The challenge for any ongoing project musically is keeping the ideas fresh. One video each week means 52 songs to be retrofitted, as it were, and there have to be times of anguish coming up with the latest.
“We deal with that in a number of ways,” says Anderson. “First, we have a rule – no idea is ever a bad idea. Then we have so many singers, and they come in and say things like, ‘Hey, let’s do “My Heart Goes On” like a ’60s surf rock song.’ And we have a fan base that is forever sending in suggestions.”
Maybe Dave Koz will sit in as he has before, or Dave Tedeschi or Sara Niemietz, but basically the show is performed by a troupe, 11 people, including six band members, four singers, and a tap dancer.
“We don’t go in for a lot of production. We are onstage, and we perform, and that’s it. But there’s so much unpredictability it makes it fun. When you’re with Postmodern Jukebox you never know what’s around the corner. It’s a blast.” (8 p.m.; $45-$55; silverlegacy.com)