Jamie Cullum closed out his North American tour to a sold out crowd at the Avalon, bringing the kind of energy and enthusiasm that is rarely seen in an age where overproduced and manufactured pop stars have become commonplace. I have been a fan of Cullum since I first discovered him in college, and have enjoyed the progression of his music from a more jazz-centric sound, akin to someone like Michael Bublé, to the development of his own style that now I feel reflects Cullum’s absolutely exceptional talent, which I had only an inkling of up until now.
The Irish rockabilly band Imelda May opened the show and initially I felt, based on my own experience with Cullum’s music, that the high energy and raucous sound of the band didn’t really fit as an opening act, but by the time that Cullum and his band began pounding through “One of Those Things”, which was done at a near breakneck pace with an energy that was completely unexpected, the pairing made sense.
What followed was one of the best concert experiences that I have ever had. Cullum is one of those performers who brings genuine joy to their performance. This joy, which showed itself in Cullum’s anecdotes inbetween as well as the way he would literally beat on the piano or grab at the strings to create a rhythm, was unlike anything I had ever seen. This behavior, along with dancing, beatboxing, and even jumping off the piano at one point, coupled with an exuberance and energy that I can only call Stefani-an, was infectious and had most of the audience, which was a mixture of all kinds of people, dancing and singing along in a way that you would never expect from someone who is technically classified as a jazz performer.
The way that Jamie bends genres in his own music is masterful. The set opener “Don’t Stop The Music”, a sultry take on Rhianna’s dance hit, added an unabashed sexiness to the song that was only hinted at in the original. Before getting into his take on the Pharrell song “Frontin’”, Jamie created the beat by beatboxing and then looping the track live, which only illustrates just how talented he is. At a point during “Gran Torino”, the theme from the Clint Eastwood film (I actually noticed Eastwood himself was in attendance), he went completely a capella and sang out to a silent audience, who were all caught up in the emotion of the song. Other songs were infused with shades of Gospel music and took inspiration from bands like U2 and even Kanye West.
Jamie was also incredibly genuine during his performance, bringing on a can of Guinness to the stage – he said he figured a glass, though the proper way to enjoy it, would not be as safe with all of his dancing around – and explaining that the evening’s set would be improvised since LA was the last stop in the tour. The concert was sold out, but the venue was incredibly intimate. Before Cullum and his band did their renditions of the original jazz standard “Cry Me A River” mashed up with Justin Timberlake’s hit of the same name, the group of them all walked down onto the floor and everyone made a small circle around him. This sort of intimacy was something I’ve only seen before at local shows, usually because the artists are friends with everyone in attendance. The fact that a Grammy and Golden Globe nominated artist would feel comfortable enough to do this was refreshing and inspiring. Jamie got up onto one of the taller fan’s shoulders to finish the song, as most of us couldn’t see him. He’s much shorter than I expected. I’m only 5?6? and he’s shorter than I am. Among other things, this concert was also a victory for those of us who are vertically challenged.
The concert was absolutely incredible and Jamie is defnitely an artist whose live show adds depth and new layers to his music. You will also have a much greater appreciation for pop music and jazz and for talented artists who really pour themselves into their work. The Pursuit is Jamie’s most mainstream, or least jazzy, album to date, and I expect that future albums will probably continue on a more original route in the future, since it really seems to be where he thrives. I’ve included the set list below. I would recommend that you familiarize yourself with Cullum’s music and catch him next time he comes around your town, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of jazz. You will not be disappointed.