Live review

Jamie Cullum
Barbican, York : 27.2.2004

The jazz scene is very civilised; Merlot and Pinot Noir are being sold by the bottle, men in suits are discussing the finer points of Cullum's contribution to jazz, ice cream and Maltesers are being served in the aisles and instead of the mosh pit there's the inner circle. However, don't let the formality fool you; Jamie bounds onto the stage in jeans and a t-shirt with a pair of pumps that don't stop tapping to the beat until the curtain goes down . . . yes, there's a curtain.

Cullum is a performer in every sense of the word. In true jazz style he rarely sticks to the original version of any track and takes time in-between songs to speak to the audience; regaling us with tales about his experience at The Brit Awards, his student days and being in Japan. The odd wisecrack is thrown in too; notably he comments that he's training his backing musicians to be the next Blazin' Squad (I guess you just had to be there). This approach not only raises a few laughs but also gives the gig a personal feel; we could all be sat in Jamie's front room with a few drinks and some ice cream (odd combination I know) whilst he chats away and plays some songs.
    He gets some of Twentysomething's highlights out into the open early on, with All At Sea and the title track warming the audience perfectly to make way for the mellow What A Difference A Day Made, the breakthrough I Get A Kick Out Of You and the lively I Could Have Danced All Night; where he throws himself into the performance, eccentrically banging his hands on the top of the piano to drum the beat. The kid's got style.

Cullum introduces some newer tracks among the old favourites, in particular a superb version of The Who's My Generation, which was originally pencilled in as the duet with Katie Melua at The Brits. There's also a recent song he wrote on tour called Don't Do Today What You Can Do Tomorrow. He performs the song on the guitar, claiming this was his first choice of instrument when he was younger, "because Nirvana never used a piano." There's nothing like an honest musician!
    Wind Cries Mary allows Cullum to drop his jazz roots and pay homage to his heavier influences, stirring up an aggressive outburst complete with about two minutes of headbanging at the piano, kicking the stool over, bashing the keys with his feet and slamming his hands all over the keys. For a few seconds it looked as though the inner circle was going to erupt into a mosh pit with people wildly throwing glasses of Merlot and Maltesers over each other. Unfortunately, Cullum bought proceedings to a close before things got out of control. After witnessing the live rendition of Wind Cries Mary, the tame album version will never be the same again.

The highlight of the gig was most definitely the encore, a beautifully crafted medley of Radiohead's High And Dry blended seamlessly with Singin' In The Rain; an inspired version which for one of the only times tonight saw Cullum on his own without the band, gradually rising the tone then falling so quiet that he doesn't need the microphone over the still and haunting piano notes ringing through the hall.
    The personal approach and closeness of tonight's gig would be wasted on a larger venue or a festival. The irony is that if Cullum turns out performances like tonight then he'll have to book the larger venues to accommodate popular demand.

:: Paul Newbold

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