Jake Shimabukuro spreads ukulele euphoria at Colonial Theater
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Few experiences cause joy to spread like seeing someone do something they’re extremely good at and having fun doing it — and watching Jake Shimabukuro play live was one of those experiences.
Shimabukuro, songwriter and ukulele virtuoso, brought his show to the Colonial Theater in Idaho Falls on Wednesday night. Along with bassist Nolan Vernor and guitarist Dave Preston, Shimabukuro awed local fans with a display of tasteful compositional skill and jaw-dropping technical prowess. Whether playing slower, emotionally affecting melodies or eyebrow-singingly energetic numbers, Shimabukuro and his bandmates packed a boatload of passion and joy, which were evident in the performance from the start.
Striding out onto an unadorned stage, the band launched into a cover of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” a tune which perfectly encapsulated the experience the audience would get. Shimabukuro provided the bulk of the melody and hooks with his ukulele. Preston’s main job was to give the songs texture and provide a harmonic scaffolding for Shimabukuro.
Vernor may have had the deceptively important job. Along with filling out the bottom end of the sonic spectrum, he was tasked giving the song rhythmic drive. That’s especially essential for a band performing without a drummer.
The talents of all three musicians shone brightly throughout the set, and each got opportunities that highlighted their abilities. Vernor took a couple of solos, and his gifts as a songwriter came to the forefront of songs like “Morning Blue.” Preston opened the show with a searing guitar lead on “Time of the Season.” Even more impressive were his nasty, hard-grooving riffs and soulful vocals that drove the band’s cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me.”
Then there was Shimabukuro.
Shimabukuro has been called the “Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele,” and observing his jaw-dropping technique and ground-breaking ability to mix musical genres and conjure sounds that have no business coming out of a ukulele, and it’s easy to see why.
However, watching him in the thrall of his music, another legendary guitarist came to mind: Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan was renowned for his passionate playing and wringing the maximum amount of feeling out of each note. Shimabukuro exhibit the same kind of passion and intensity. He pulled the same kind of guitar faces Vaughan used to pull, and there were several numbers, like the ling uke solo in “Dragon,” where Shimabukuro made his ukulele sound like a Fender Strat.
Other highlights included “Go for Broke,” where the stripped-down live arrangement only drew focus to how emotional and well-composed the melody is. “Pangram” recalled the 80s Neo-Classical shred guitar movement and wouldn’t sound out of place a Shrapnel records compilation album. “Kawika” took a tradition Hawaiian composition and gave it an injection high-voltage surf rock energy. And the sing-along encore of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” gave every member of the audience a chance to embrace their inner Freddie Mercury.
No matter what tempo, style or intensity level they were playing, the band had fun doing it. They poured feeling and joy into their music, and kind of performance is infectious. It goes straight to the heart and soul of any audience member willing to give themselves over to it.
I’ll sum it up like this: I’ve been to a lot of rock shows that gave me a chance to release pent up negativity, and I always leave feeling a mixture of contentment and relief. But Jake Shimabukuro’s show left me feeling a sense of pure joy that I don’t remember a concert ever giving me before.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to break out my ukulele and practice.