Posted by lemonjelly on:
A one man ukelele show at Campbell Hall, sold out? How is this possible.
If it's any statement of the crowds I run in, it would take two hands to count the number of friends who actively play the ukekele. And they all love it. One has even produced cds of his work. Others are still thrilled to be able to strum two chords. There's a ukelele practice group at my work that meets at lunch times.
And I enjoy listening to them, at all their ranges of talent and enthusiasm. So the opportunity to hear Jake Shimabukuro play at Campbell Hall last Thursday on 31 March on was one I couldn't pass up. As it turned out, I sat directly behind one of these friends who promised me I was in for quite a treat. I was just grateful he agreed to slouch in his seat so I could get a better view.
Hawaiian born Shimabukuro had a humble but passionate presence on stage. One could feel small and overwhelmed as a solo artist up there, performing to a darkened room where nobody stands up to dance, but he put his energy into his music, moved comfortably about the stage and the audience responded enthusiastically at every conclusion. While he can probably strum out 300+ luau-swaying Hawaiian ukelele songs, his talent comes in transforming the little 4-stringer far beyond the traditional boundaries.
Every song had a story, with what inspired Shimabukuro and what his goals were. The song "143" referred back to the days before mobile phones, when the device of choice was a pager. Sending a page of 143 was code for "I love you." Following the theme of young love, his next song was "Boy Meets Girl." Both were sweet soft tunes.
"Bring Your Adz" was homage to the Hawaiian working class, patriotic and inspirational. Adz are traditional stone axe-like tools, used in canoe building or cutting.
Shimabukuro took a turn then for the pensive side when he spoke of the backstory to "Go For Broke," the catchphrase for Japanese-Americans interned during WWII who proved their loyalty to the US by serving in the military. He expressed deep gratitude for their sacrifice, and helping make a better life for people like him, a fifth generation Japanese American.
Shimabukuro then told the story of a friend's ailing grandmother who, under heavy medication, had visions of blue roses above her hospital bed, and at night the rose petals would fall down on her. This became "Blue Roses Falling," a song that is both sad and hopeful at the same time.
On a lighter note, "Five Dollars Unleaded" was a three-part piece about days out with his father, who'd continually let the gasoline tank in the car run near to empty during times when a gasoline tank could actually be filled with five dollars worth of gasoline. It starts out upbeat and fast, with anticipation of all that's possible to achieve on a full tank of gas, but then becomes frantic and fretful, as the tank drops low and nobody knows if they'll get to the station before the car goes dry...do they make it? Shimabukuro plinked at the ukelele, "glug glug glug" and the tank's full, everyone's happy and driving merrily along again.
The song that blew me away was "Sakura Sakura." Shimaburkura transformed his 4-string ukelele into a traditional 13-string Japanese Koto. It's about the annual cherry blossom season (happening around now, I might add) and when I closed my eyes, I stopped hearing the ukelele and thought about the cherry blossoms I once saw at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden a few years back. He dedicated this song to Japan, and made a gentle reminder to the audience that a donation box was out at the merch table, 100% of proceeds would go to Japan Relief.
The ukelele then made another transformation, to flamenco style, with "Let's Dance." If people could get up and dance, they would have. Instead, feverish clapping.
The concert wrapped up with two covers. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the song everyone dares Shimabukura to play: "Bohemian Rapsody" by Queen. They were amazing! The audience stood for an encore and were treated to the one "traditional" ukelele song of the entire show, "Crazy G" that was, um, insane. Lightning fast hands to begin with, getting unbelieveably nimble as the audience cried for him to go faster! Faster!
Now I know why the show was sold out.
For your listening pleasure, some of his fine work is on youtube.