Bradley Williams & His Original 21st Century Review

Finally, the moment Bradley Williams has been waiting for since he formed this postmodern retro-chic vaudeville band in 1995: the dawn of its namesake century. Williams’s initial concept–an eclectic, almost zany mix of material spanning six decades, from the 20s to the 70s–has matured into an elaborate stage show, a streamlined vehicle that purrs in first gear and roars in fifth. He’s fine-tuned the complicated machinery of his huge cast, which at this engagement will include three wildly diverse female singers; two jack-of-all-trades reedmen; sturdy-toned trombonist Audrey Morrison; percolating percussionist Anthony Pinciotti, back from New York for a visit; tap dancer Jimmy Payne Jr., who’s obviously seen a few old Nicholas Brothers films; and veteran trumpeter Arthur Hoyle, whose experience in Sun Ra’s mid-50s Arkestra ought to come in handy here. Williams tops it off with his effervescent piano solos, some of the best accompaniment in town, and his own comic-relief vocals–scratchy and insinuating, with a whiff of Hoagy Carmichael’s folksy drawl. The band hops from genre to genre, sometimes even folding a couple idioms into one arrangement: on this year’s delightful Songs for Swinging Sophisticates, Volume Two (Sideways Entertainment), for example, Williams drags the classic 30s torch song “Lover Man” into the 60s, giving it a brisk bossa nova treatment and a burst of Bacharach-style vocal harmonies on the bridge. Tracks like this loiter smartly at the corner of art, entertainment, and kitsch–and on the review’s set lists they’re likely to end up between a forgotten gem from the pen of Duke Ellington or Earl Hines and one of Williams’s straightforward instrumentals, neither of which need to wink to get their point across. These two New Year’s Eve shows come with a five- and an eight-course meal respectively, each at a three-digit prix fixe. Friday, December 31, 5 and 8 PM, Plaza Tavern, 70 W. Monroe; 312-977-1940. NEIL TESSER