Jake Shimabukuro Live in Pennsylvania

Jake Shimabukuro opens with "More Ukulele" in Manheim, PA
Thursday night I went to see Jake Shimabukuro play his tenor ukulele live in concert in Manheim, Pennsylvania, part of his 2014 Uke Nation Tour. Quite simply, it was amazing. Playing the ukulele from the age of four (over three decades now), what Jake can do with four strings is so unexpected that first-timers are shocked to think that this is the same "toy" instrument Tiny Tim used to tiptoe through the tulips. In the hands of a master like Shimabukuro, the ukulele is no toy, but a fair cousin of the Spanish classical guitar with a range whose limits Jake continues to push.

Opening the last night's concert with "More Ukulele" from his new CD Grand Ukulele. It was a raucous start with Jake dancing and playing the fast-paced, staccato notes with abandon, eliciting cheers from a crowd that was filled with fans and untold numbers of amateur uke players. From the same album Jake would also play "Ukulele Five-O" - his homage to the classic 70s TV show set in his home state of Hawaii -and "Gentle Mandolin" - a song he wrote for his sons and he dedicated to all the fathers in the crowd. 

In addition to playing everyone's favorite cover song, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," (which Jake performed at a TED Talk and was my introduction to Shimabukuro) as well as as sweet versions of "Ave Maria" and "In My Life" on a vintage baritone ukulele he recently acquired, Jake demonstrated his ability as a musician and a producer by playing a version of "Dragon" from his the CD of the same name that hearkened back to his earliest days performing in the 80s. On stage using foot pedals, Jake would play a phrase, which was recorded and then played back. He layered these phrases one upon another, until he had created a loop which then played back so he was his own accompanist. Then, Shimabukuro played that uke like the lead guitarist of a glam metal band, sans the big hair. I shot the video last night, and if you listen to the end, you will hear him extract out each the accompanying phrases until it's just him and the ukulele again. It's a truly incredible level of musicianship.

How do you top that? When you are Jake Shimabukuro you play "While My Guitar Gentle Weeps," the George Harrison song that changed everything for a young Jake. (This video was uploaded in April 2005 to YouTube, which was only in its second year, and went completely viral with millions of hits.) Playing "Hallelujah" for his encore sent everyone home happy. That might be the what unifies all the myriad of different songs Jake plays...you can't help but smile listening to this perfect little instrument.