Jamie Cullum has struggled for years to present himself as edgier than your average crooner – the cover of current album The Pursuit shows the UK’s biggest-selling jazz-pop singer giving the camera a confrontational look as a piano explodes behind him. Playing two consecutive Sundays at the Palladium – the spiritual home of light entertainment – could therefore count as something of an own goal. His two-hour show was a battle between two Cullums: the rock star he’d like to be and the chap-next-door he is.
The rocker in him made a diligent effort: he swore, he stood on his piano, he introduced 2005 tune Photograph as “a song about sex, drugs and living in the West Country”, and inserted the words “one cheeky line of cocaine” into I Get a Kick Out of You. He even kicked over the piano stool.
But it was no use. Cullum is just too affable to make a convincing punk – and just as well. He turned 30 last year (“but I still get ID-ed for cigarettes”), but a large proportion of the audience was twice his age, and palpably froze at an anecdote that included the words “my fucking song”. Cullum had to swiftly sing the song in question – Twentysomething – to thaw them out. With balcony seats here going for a prerecessionary £40, the Jamie Rotten act wasn’t what they were there for.
His last couple of albums have drifted from his original jazz template toward pop – and pop prevailed here, just. His human beatbox routine on Pharrell Williams’s Frontin’ was only mildly foolish, while silky covers of The Wind Cries Mary and Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music may have been the very definition of easy listening, but also showed off his fluent piano skills. Skill of a different kind was on display during Cry Me a River, which cleverly merged the identically titled Julie London and Justin Timberlake hits – his entire band climbed into the crowd for an up-close performance, including drum solo.
Cullum seemed happiest when he and the band got stuck into improvisational segments. The skittering, discordant We Run Things gave him an excuse to play congas, and a pretty duet with his brother, Ben, swirled around for ages. Through it all, he was easygoing charm itself, Jamie Rotten having been subdued for another night.