Review: Shimabukuro superb at Hawaii Theatre
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
The big event of the weekend in local entertainment was without a doubt Jake Shimabukuro’s sold out one-nighter on Saturday, Nov. 24 — “Jake Shimabukuro & Friends” — at Hawaii Theatre.
The 15-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner performed for two solid hours without intermission, then went outside to meet the audience and signed autographs for another hour. His “friends” turned out to be Shimabukuro’s brother, ukulele virtuoso Bruce Shimabukuro, and 2007 Hoku Award-winner Paula Fuga, who sat in for two songs each.
Bruce distinguished himself with his wit as well as with his skill as a musician.
“Now you know who the comedian in the family is,” Jake said when his brother had finished their mini-set together.
Fuga, who plays ukulele as well as singing, gave the evening a distinct bluesy vibe singing “Misery’s End” and “Winter Swell Blues.”
For Jake, the Hawaii Theatre show was one of 40 on a two-month nationwide tour supporting the October release of his new album, “Grand Ukulele.” It’s stock concert stage jargon for an artist to tell a crowd that their city is the artist’s favorite, but when Jake told the Hawaii Theater audience, “This is the show that I’ve been looking forward to the most,” there was no doubting his sincerity.
The show included almost all the songs on the new album. From the opening, “Island Fever Blues” followed by “More Ukulele” and “Rolling In The Deep,” to an exquisite “hana hou” performance of “Akaka Falls,” Jake delivered a tremendous demonstration of the range that the ukulele is capable of when played by contemporary virtuoso.
The audience loved his high-speed shredding — several bursts of super-speed playing received spontaneous audience applause. With other selections he displayed his skill at delicate picking and the beauty that is created when each note is allowed to resonate individually.
Jake mentioned the album several times — what an honor it was to work with producer Alan Parsons, for example — but instead of introducing each song from the album with “And here’s another songs from my new album,” he talked primarily about other things.
For example, he is first and foremost an unashamedly proud new father of three-month old Chase. He spoke at length about how becoming a father changed has changed his perspective on many things.
He also shared the stories behind several songs in the show: “Missing Three” was the result when he experimented with playing the ukulele with three strings instead of the usual four. “Blue Roses Falling,” one of the songs in the show that isn’t on the “Grand Ukulele” album, came out of his conversations with a dying woman who told him that she saw blue roses falling from the ceiling of her room at night.
On the lighter side, Jake talked about how his mother was his first ukulele teacher, how he learned the basic three chord “Hawaiian vamp,” and about how he wrote new lyrics for the hapa-haole standard, “U.S.E.D.,” that described his imaginary experiences as a martial arts hero.
He sang a few lines and then stopped. “Now you know why I don’t sing,” he said.
Bruce joked that when he’d heard that his brother would be featuring some “friends” in the show, “I wasn’t sure if (friends) meant me.” The two brothers were a great team as always. Their high-powered two man arrangement of “Tokada,” a song they wrote and first recorded back when Jake was a member of Pure Heart, was one of the highlight moments of the show.
Jake’s solo rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was another highlight and emphasized his vision as an arranger as well as a musician.
And, no Jake Shimabukuro concert is complete these days without his acclaimed four-string arrangement of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Jake shared the story of how a YouTube video clip of him playing the George Harrison classic launched his career as an international artist. His rendition of the song on Saturday — the final song of the main set — earned the standing ovation it received.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.