First Night: Jamie Cullum

A SHORT, scruffy, wide-eyed hobbit of a man, Jamie Cullum bears all the resemblance of a pop punk heart-throb that never was.

In fact, the only thing missing is the guitar.

The point is, the man doesn't look like he should be playing jazz, let alone singing What a Difference a Day Made.

Then again, we do live in a world where baby-faced crooners continue to carve out a career pretending to be their heroes (Michael Bublé, anyone?). So why not Cullum?

At least the 30-year-old Converse- wearing Essex native brings a little ingenuity to the table.

That, and some beatboxing, too.

Indeed, over the course of two bumpy hours, Cullum gives us a list of reasons why a young artist like himself should be both applauded and, unfortunately, ignored.

First of all, the dude -- no matter how watered-down his interpretation of jazz may be -- is a terrific entertainer; a natural performer, even, whose manic delivery and often crazed inability to keep still only add to some of the show's more enjoyable moments.

Like jumping on top of his piano, for example.

Or descending into the aisles with his band for what may just be one of the most engaging live experiences that the Olympia Theatre's security have ever had to deal with.

Simply put, when Jamie's good, he's bloody great. But when he isn't, well, that's a different story.

And, worryingly enough, it all boils down to that pop-sprinkled original material of his.

Five albums in and it's safe to say that Cullum will probably never write a song that will stay in your head for longer than its running time.

An accomplished pianist, there are moments when the guy delivers, not least with These Are The Days, or newbie I'm All Over It.

But let's just say that he's a lucky man he's got plenty of celebrated covers to choose from.

Like Rihanna's Don't Stop The Music, or Cry Me A River.

However, it doesn't always go according to plan, and we could have done without a looped rendition of Pharrel Williams' Frontin' -- a disjointed and terribly annoying effort that best displayed why Cullum needs his band and not just some sort of flashy recorder to play experimental voice artist with.

He's not exactly the greatest vocalist either. And the rehearsed rock-star mannerisms can grate a little, too.

But again, what continues to save this mixed bag of a performance from the mediocre bin (aside, of course, from the impressive assistance of his band) is Jamie's otherwise remarkable energy and attention to detail.


He's out to please everyone, and, at one point, requests that somebody who can play the piano approach the stage.

Thanks to the help of her male companion, one girl near the front takes to the spotlight -- a moment that eventually cascades into quite a compelling collaboration behind the keys.

A muddled and inconsistent show it may have been, but you can't say that it never entertained.