By Wayne Harada
Jake Shimabukuro’s sold-out ukulele extravaganza Friday night (Dec. 5) at Blaisdell Concert Hall clearly demonstrated the islander’s ascent to the top tier of live performing acts.
Surrounded by his career-specific musical buddies, Shimabukuro performed for a solid 2 ½ hours without intermission. Unquestionably, it was an instance of a hometown somebody nervous about performing before his fellow residents, teachers, musical peers and family — a homecoming that was the nightcap for a 140-show tour the past few months.
Nobody puts out a 150-minute performance. Nobody.
But here’s this cute, even cuddly, local dude alternating frenetic strumming and ferocious prancing and dancing, gracious and grateful, doing fist-bumps with all his buddies after each tune. Oh yeah, and cheek hugs, too.
From the audience perspective, it was a test for the bladder but for Shimabukuro, it was a triumph of endurance, dedication, creativity, artistry and appreciation.
I mean, he ultimately staged a four-tier program sharing his stage with stellar musicians from his past. And perhaps a handful in the packed auditorium had to make a quick bathroom visit.
What Shimabukuro offered was a kaleidoscopic panorama of his abilities and his performing peers were with him, note for note, beat to beat.
In the end, it was crystal clear; Shimabukuro is a Jake of all trades.
Part 1: The Side Order Band (Chris Kamaka, Asa Young, Del Beazley and Brian Tolentino) performed a suite of Hawaiiana, joined by Shimabukuro. These dudes traveled to Japan while Shimabukuro was a budding star, and he opened for them. With tables turned, you could feel the aloha and the bruddahood among the guys; and since Shimabukuro doesn’t sing, he nonetheless mouthed the lyrics whenever Beazley or Kamaka sang tunes ranging from the evergreen "Green Rose Hula" to Malani Bilyeu’s “Molokai, Sweet Home.
Part 2: Shimabukuro reunited with Pure Heart, for the first time in 15 years. So Jon Yamasato on guitar and vocals and Lopaka Colon on percussion and bird calls and other sound effects, chime in, for old times sake. There’s genuine camaraderie and fellowship in the reunion, and if you remember uke whiz way back then, he wore eyeglasses and sported a somewhat shaved head hairstyle. Now, there’s a full crop of black hair and the specs are gone. And the precision of his artistry also has leaped to stratospheric levels — this is no ordinary ukulele trouper.
Yamasato, a realtor by day, wondered what’s next for Pure Heart. Colon has a gig at the “Legends” spectacle “Rock-a-Hula” at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, where his bird calls and versatility might not be appreciated as much as hometowners. No answers given, but Yamasato’s admission of his madness and disappointment when Shimabukuro decided to go solo at least removed the burden on his shoulders. Change is healthy, encourages growth and new journeys. The “How Can I Get Over” selection raised the issues but didn’t provide answers about closing one door and opening the next.
Part 3: Shimabukuro did a solo sequence, utilizing a beloved old 50-year-old Kamaka baritone ukulele acquisition. To share his adoration of the vintage instrument, he did a more gentle and romantic interlude including an affectionate “In My Life” from the Beatles catalogue, plus the emotional but soothing “Ave Maria.”
Part 4: A drum set and an electric bass sat on the otherwise vacant stage, so Neal Okimoto occupied the seat amid the drums and cymbals and Dean Taba navigated the bass. Of course, with that kind of backup, Shimabukuro sashayed into a jazz-framed set with fiery and flashy bursts on "Dragon." The savvy lighting effects enhanced the electricity and animation of the uke virtuoso, who continues to upgrade his profile and build on his legacy.
For the finale, Shimabukuro was back to his tenor ukulele, doing three or four more songs winding up with an energetic and expressive “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the George Harrison composition that was a YouTube sensation that by now has earned pretty much a permanent spot on Shimabukuro’s playlist.
It was a night of pure magic ... with a lot of heart.