The first thought that popped into my head as I approached the Green Stage Saturday afternoon and heard a vocal wafting through the trees was “damn, that kid does have a good set of pipes”. It caught me unawares, and you can’t deny your subconscious when that happens. (Blink bitch, blink!) Cullum’s voice has got the silky, it’s got the grit, and it spreads like apple butter.
He and his band were a five-piece this time (last time he was at Fuji it was as a trio), with upright bass and drums, and variously percussion (congas), horns, and Rhodes keyboard, with Cullum on piano.
Although he didn’t stay there. He was up and down the whole show, and I hate to throw sewage on his sundae, but the man just doesn’t have it in him to do what he’s trying to do. Whether it’s an attempted Ben Folds at the piano, a post modern freak-out-noise nob-twisting over on the electronics, or half-assed hip-hop dancing and posing as a front man, he doesn’t ever sell it. It doesn’t feel like him, it feels like he (and the band) are imitating others, cherry picking identities from the MTV (although to be fair the band looked they’re in it for the paycheck anyway). He’s like a guy who came to a dance party alone and is trying to convince himself to have a good time.
He likes Japan though. In his onstage patter, he compared Fuji Rock to Glastonbury, and commended the Japanese for taking care of their environment. It’s probably largely location, location, location, but it’s a nice thought anyway. (The Japanese are pretty good with their trash). He’s been waiting six years to come back, since his last year at Fuji where he only stayed four hours, and he vowed if he ever got invited back he’d come for at least a full day so as to enjoy the moment. Excellent choice, monsieur Cullum.
Third song in was “Please Don’t Stop The Music”, a very nice Rihanna over, with an avante-jazz piano solo in the middle. He’s pretty excellent with the covers. Next came All At Sea (intercut with a brief quotation of The Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize?), an absolutely gorgeous ballad he wrote himself, and later his cover of Radiohead’s High And Dry, both of which make me weep.
Wish he’d stick with this stuff. Just put on a crushed velvet smoking jacket and kick back at the piano with some dignity. He could do dignity like no one else on the planet if he wanted to. The man has a one-in-a-million gift, but he just tries too much. Maybe he’ll mellow as he ages. Or maybe when he gets old the faffing about will become endearing.
His lack of judgement and awareness of what he can and can’t pull off is probably best summed up in his quotation of Kanye while he was noodling on the Rhodes for an interlude. It went a little something like this: “I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger but she ain’t messin’ with no broke….mmmmm….no, I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger, but she ain’t messin with no broke……whiiiiite boy from the west country of England.”
photos by izumi. more here
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