Sunday night at the Moore Theater, Seattle was treated to an epic evening of thundering rockabilly by Irish music sensation Imelda May, followed by a sizzling set by jazz pop sweetheart Jamie Cullum that was finished off with a triple encore. The house was packed and the audience jazzed, but if you missed these fabulous performances, my review and videos will tell all. Imelda May took the stage with cherry red lipstick and a mini dress to match, delivering a full set of her specialty rockabilly/blues/jazz with her powerful vocals. In addition to her singing talent, May displayed a personality as fiery as the red in her attire. After telling the audience of her recent crossing over the Canadian border, an audience member jokingly asked if she had been caught smoking, to which she retorted with a devilish smile, “I didn’t smoke anything, you filthy man; I had tea.” Along with her four-piece band, May was a vibrant fireball of red on the stage, garnering attention through her sultry, quieter ballads, while at the next moment engaging us all in a lively call and response.
The audience was left roaring for more when she announced her last song, and she earned a adamant standing ovation. Even though many of us may not have heard of May until now, if you watched the Grammy’s last month, you might have seen her live performance with Jeff Beck as the lead singer for his cover of “How High the Moon.” She has two albums out, No Turning Back and Love Tattoo; check them both out for a taste of modern rockabilly brought to life by the captivating Imelda May.
If there is anyone who can jazz up a Top 40 hit, turn a piano into a percussion instrument, and pull off wearing silver shoes with red and blue socks, that person is British jazz sensation Jamie Cullum. All of the aforementioned occurrences did indeed happen at Cullum’s lively show at the Moore. His show was full of random, comedic events that made it apparent why Cullum fans packed the Moore and gave him a standing ovation even before his performance began. Cullum is known for improvising his shows with songs that are rooted in jazz, but are also inclusive of other genres as well. Opening with a jazzed up version of Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” Cullum and his four piece band also performed their version of the White Stripes‘ “Seven Nation Army” and included a number of improv jazz and scat sessions, one of which featured Cullum using his piano for percussion. Signature Jamie Cullum songs from his newest album The Pursuit, as well as older albums including Catching Tales and Twentysomething were also included.
Cullum and his band had the crowd’s full attention and they used it well, encouraging all to sing and dance along, filling the Moore with deafening sound. They didn’t even have to ask for silence during a softer ballad; the entire theater seemed to be holding its breath, salvaging every last whisper of a note uttered by Cullum. In these rare moments of peace and quiet, all else that could be heard was the faint buzz of the sound system, which was my only complaint about the entire night’s show. Throughout the entire two-hour set, Cullum appeared genuinely excited to be here in Seattle with his devoted audience, taking time to share humorous anecdotes to introduce songs, one of which is entitled “My Yard,” a song about the booty call, and the other written in memory of his days before he knew what a booty call was, a song appropriately named “Mixtape.”
He was sipping what appeared to be an energy drink throughout the show, and as he sang, danced, and played his piano with fervent passion, it was understood why he might need an extra energy boost. Aside from his onstage antics, which included him leaping atop his piano several times, perhaps the best moment of the night was when Cullum and his band relocated to the ground floor, setting up camp in one of the aisles to sing the lyrics to the original “Cry Me a River” to the tune of the Justin Timberlake pop hit, all the while surrounded by fans who were both stunned and excited to be so close to Cullum (see the video clip below). The performance ended with a triple encore, during which Cullum played some of his best-known hits including “Wind Cries Mary” and “All at Sea,” the audience harmonizing along, just the way Cullum wanted it to be.
Jamie Cullum and Imelda May are both representative of musical genres that have largely lost their younger audiences modern music. While they cannot necessarily make rockabilly and jazz as popular as rock and hip-hop, Cullum and May are bringing much-needed creative zest and youth to the genres, proving that musical revivals are indeed possible.