Jamie Cullum’s blend of jazz, pop and anything else that comes to hand may not be to everyone’s taste, but he certainly knows how to shake things up. On the opening night of his first UK tour for four years, the 30-year-old exploding-piano man grabbed the moment by the scruff of the neck as he combined fine musicianship with hyperactive showmanship.
There was polite turmoil as Cullum and his four-man band decamped from the stage to a gangway at the side of the stalls, where they played an extended arrangement of Cry Me a River, complete with snare drum solo. Fans old enough to think twice before leaping out of their seats were exhorted to sing, clap and jump up and down. Some of them may not have been surprised to see Cullum clambering precariously on top of his grand piano and then leaping to the floor during an encore of The Wind Cries Mary.
But the apprehensive expressions on the faces of the security staff suggested that these were not the kind of antics they were used to catering for at this rather staid concert venue.
As entertaining as all this brouhaha was, it felt at times as if Cullum was pushing a little too hard in his efforts to take on the role of a mainstream pop star. Musically, his jazz roots were discarded on his own compositions Wheels and I’m All Over It — both from his current album, The Pursuit — which he performed in a manner pitched somewhere between David Gray and Robbie Williams.
Ironically, his reimagined version of the Rihanna hit Don’t Stop the Music, prompted a more nuanced performance, including a brilliant piano break with slightly discordant intervals that echoed the ultra-cool crossover style of Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus.
Cullum chatted up the Glasgow audience, recalling his first visit to perform in the city when he was supported by an obscure singer called Amy Winehouse. However, his dedication of the Hoagy Carmichael standard I Get Along Without You Very Well to Gordon Brown, was not greeted with conspicuous approval in this Labour heartland. His supremely versatile band switched back and forth between horns, guitars, keyboards and upright bass while keeping abreast of a sequence of songs apparently chosen spontaneously by Cullum that embraced his ingeniously redesigned version of Radiohead’s High and Dry and the Tony Bennett hit If I Ruled the World, which now sounded like a Keane song.
It was a lot of fun. But when it ended with Cullum alone at the piano, singing his theme from the movie Gran Torino, there was a glimpse of a performer with greater emotional depth than we had been allowed to see for much of the show.
Tour continues at Newcastle City Hall tonight; Regent, Ipswich, tomorrow,; Birmingham Symphony Hall, Thurs; Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Fri; London Palladium, Sat and May 23