Yesterday, I spent an embarrassing amount of time practicing deep breathing and convincing myself that everything was going to be okay and it was irrational to let my anxiety take hold. You see, my boyfriend and I had tickets to see the incredible Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) at the House of Blues in San Diego. And even though I was ridiculously excited to see PMJ live, I was also a little terrified.
In light of the horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in recent weeks, I’ve been on edge in public, heavily crowded places. It’s safe to say my anxiety has gotten the best of me a number of times. I find myself regularly scouting exits, determining how I’d escape in case of an emergency. My talent for imagining worst case scenarios shifts into overdrive. When this happens, I instruct myself to down a rationality cocktail—calm down, think clearly, turn off the newscasts, live in the moment.
That last part of the cocktail, live in the moment (and sometimes “live your damn life, Tiffany!”), is the most important ingredient. It’s generally what gets me out of the house and out into the world. Because you can’t live behind closed doors paralyzed by fear, especially when people and music and performance and the bustle of city life are the things that make you happy.
So, I put on my vintage, sequined, 1950s-style frock, hooked my arm in my boyfriend’s, and strolled the few blocks downtown to the House of Blues, where a line for the show wrapped around half the city block. The show had sold out. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised.
If you haven’t heard of PMJ yet, I’m about to introduce you to your new obsession. The brainchild of the incomparable Scott Bradlee, PMJ is an antidote to the over-produced, Auto-Tune-dependent, repetitive music that you generally hear on the radio. It’s also a time machine. PMJ takes Top 40-style hits, changes up their arrangements so they sound like something from yesteryear, and then pairs dynamite singers with dynamite musicians (and sometimes dancers, too!) to bring the re-envisioned song to life. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” morphs into a New Orleans soul song. Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” turns into a James Bond theme. Maroon 5’s “Maps” gets a vintage 1970s soul makeover. Rihanna’s “Umbrella” transforms into a Singin’ in the Rain-style tune—with tap dancers and umbrellas! Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty to Me” becomes a vintage klezmer—with a rap in Yiddish.
Often, I like PMJ’s covers more than the originals. And it’s not just the gimmick of this concept, the novelty of the act. The songs are thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly executed. And holy crap, the talent involved in this project is off the charts! PMJ works regularly with dozens of insanely gifted and dedicated musicians, and their videos (which premiere on a weekly basis) and concerts feature a revolving door of talent.
Last night, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart, Ariana Savalas, Joey Cook, Maiya Sykes, Blake Lewis, and Sarah Reich opened the show with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” performed in the style of the roaring 20s. I was immediately smiling from ear to ear. The anxiety that had sat in my gut all day drained out of my body. And I danced, because I couldn’t keep still. The music and the energy were so infectious.
During their individual performances, Casey wowed us with his luscious man bun, gravelly vocals, phenomenal upright bass-playing skills, and, of course, his New Orleans-style take on Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One.”
Ariana won me over with her hilarious antics (this woman is the definition of a modern burlesque performer—humor, sex appeal, pipes, character), not to mention that Jessica Rabbit-inspired performance of “No Diggity.”
Joey delivered the damn cutest rendition of “Hey There, Delilah,” complete with ukulele and accordion accompaniment (and yes, she played both). Her performance reminded us all what it feels like to fall in love the first time.
Maiya took us to church singing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and then catapulted Adele’s new single, “Hello,” into another stratosphere.
Blake attacked “Radioactive” with gorgeous vocals, beat-boxing, and enough dapper flair to inspire us all to go out and buy a pageboy cap.
And then there was my dance/girl crush, Sarah Reich, who is giving voice to the art of tap dancing and making it relevant again. She is a consummate performer, making the most difficult steps look easy and flawless, a huge smile on her face at all times. And when you can match a drummer beat for beat (yeah, she can and she proved it during the show), you know you’ve got one hell of a tapper on your hands.
Scott Bradlee took the stage halfway through the show to thank us for supporting PMJ and promised they’re just getting started. He asked if he could play a little piano for us, requested artist suggestions from the audience, and performed an impromptu piano mashup of Michael Jackson, Queen, Billy Joel, Elvis Presley, and MC Hammer.
And I can’t fail to mention the infamous Tambourine Guy, Tim Kubart, who intermittently exploded onstage, tambourines rattling, and performed with the exuberance and joy commonly reserved for “hyperactive” kids—a joy I feel like we’re told to abandon as soon as we reach a certain age, because it’s silly or inappropriate somehow. Personally, I think we need to bring that joy back. I’m happy Tim and his irresistible energy are an integral part of PMJ’s show.
The full cast brought it home with a cover of “Such Great Heights,” and the song swelled in the House of Blues as if these six singers were, in fact, a full chorus. Scott came out onstage and attempted shuffle stomps alongside Sarah. Casey whispered something to Haley between verses and she laughed. The whole crowd swayed and danced.
And I can’t remember the last time I felt that happy.
I didn’t realize how deeply I needed last night’s PMJ concert until I was slow dancing with my boyfriend to their encore, a sweet, simple version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” happy tears streaming down my cheeks. After weeks of being on edge and sinking slowly into a state-of-the-world-inspired depression, my heart was light. I felt joy bubbling up in my chest. There was suddenly a place for this holiday season in my heart, which is usually “the most wonderful time of the year,” but has seemed overshadowed by sadness recently.
Last night, PMJ was a beacon of hope for me—and probably many others in the audience—an important reminder that the human spirit, the good in this world, going out to live your life, and the unity inspired by music are far more powerful than fear.