Show Review: Jake Shimabukuro and Friends Was Incredible Ukulele at the Blue Note, Honolulu, Hawaii

Show Reviews


Jake Shimabukuro and Friends, March 06, 2020, The Blue Note, Honolulu, Hawaii

I moved to Hawaii, the place I call home, in 1995. The Islands were in the midst of a Hawaiian musical renaissance. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole had recently released Facing The Future. It’s laid back ukulele strumming combined traditional Hawaiian language and hapa haole songs with a modern twist. In contrast the trio Pure Heart, played a buoyant, expressive, fast paced style. Most notably Jake Shimabukuro, on ukulele played the instrument in ways you never imagined.

Pure Heart disbanded and Shimabukuro went on his own. He remained popular in Hawaii and gained notoriety in Japan. In 2006 a video of Jake covering “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral. Since then his career has snowballed. He has played almost every major music festival and has shared the stage with industry giants. As popular as Shimabukuro has become he has never forgotten his roots and continues to play multiple dates in Hawaii.

With an enthusiastic “Aloha” the ukulele virtuoso greeted the sold out crowd at The Blue Note Hawaii, in Honolulu. Jake began his set alone on stage with only his ukulele and reintroduced the crowd to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” For the remainder of the night Shimabukuro shared songs that influenced him along with original compositions.

From the start of the performance Jake testified his love of the Beatles with exquisite renditions “In My Life” which fused into Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah’ and “Eleanor Rigby.” These were marked not only by his incredible playing but for the innovative arrangements, building songs from a familiar melody to a “ukulelephonic” crescendo. The highly personable Shimabukuro also shared his Japanese heritage with the audience. “Sakura, Sakura” (“Cherry Blossom, Cherry Blossom”) traditionally performed with a 13 string koto was faithfully recreated with the ukulele. Shimabukuro’s friends included Bryan Tolentiono, one of Hawaii’s most gifted ukulele players, was brought out and played a few duets of traditional Hawaiian songs with Jake and then added Jake’s touring bass player, Jackson Waldhoff. Perhaps the nights most endearing guest was Jake Shimabukuro’s son. The joy of a father sharing the spotlight with his son was extraordinary.

Waldhoff remained on stage for the remainder of the set. Highlights included “Orange World” a bluegrass/banjo infused composition in which the ukulele dueled with the electric bass. Another highlight included “Dragon,” the title borrowed from his favorite Bruce Lee film Enter The Dragon. Jake used his effect pedals to create numerous loops which gave the auditory illusion of multiple ukuleles being played at once. Bohemian Rhapsody, which wrapped up the set, was one of the most captivating selections of the night. Although the entire audience were invited to sing along, one female “singer” took the lead to everyone’s amusement. After a standing ovation Jake agreed to play one more song which was requested by a newlywed couple.

In the last twenty five years so much has changed within the Hawaiian music genre. What has not changed is Jake Shimabukuro is continually expanding the role of the ukulele. Jake’s wizardry over his instrument and lively character made for an absolutely amazing performance. We are lucky he has not forgotten his roots in Hawaii.

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