It’s beyond refreshing to encounter an artist who’s willing to not just run down his songs but actually perform them. Stoic shoegazing rockers may provide a rib-rattling sonic baptism for concertgoers, but Sammy Davis Jr. skipped the baptism and escorted his audiences directly to the Have Mercy Seat amid a ?urry of tapping feet. With a similar regard for showmanship, British pop-Jazz maestro Jamie Cullum understands intuitively that being a musician and an entertainer are not by default the same animal. It takes work, it takes swagger, it takes the bravery to dance about like a blessed fool and it takes the consideration to involve your audience (however initially reluctant) in the proceedings.
Live at Blenheim Palace sets the bar for all other concert DVDs. Shot in the courtyard of the marvelously lavish and historic Blenheim Palace, located 8 miles northwest of Oxford, England, the show kicks off just minutes before the sun dips gradually beyond the far rim. As the resplendently glowing sunset slowly burns itself out, Cullum’s ecstatic presence onstage replaces it as the evening’s preeminent ?ickering ball of energy.
The young performer’s already-legendary stage antics—which could easily tailspin into the realm of tired sideshow theatrics—succeed famously yet again as he attacks his grand piano with unmitigated delight. He weaves lightning-fast solo passages together on its keys, slaps complex rhythms on its body as if the piano were a bona ?de percussion instrument and climbs jubilantly atop it like a conquering hero, only to leap off moments later to the delight of his captive audience. If he had the strength, you get the sense he just might pick it up and smash it to bits on the stage: Blenheim Calling, if you will.
The concert is tastefully broken up by intermittent segments highlighting stops on Cullum’s recent U.S. tour. While in San Francisco, he sits at a table, freely admitting that he’s “prostituted jazz to serve his own evil ends.” The most telling interview, however, is probably the earliest in the ?lm, shot the afternoon of the concert, which ?nds Jamie remarking that he hopes to “put on the show of his life”—a hope which he’d realize mere hours later.