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Review: Shimabukuro wows audience at Troy Savings Banks Music Hall

Saturday, April 27, 2013
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— “Aloha, Troy!” called ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, saying farewell to the elated capacity crowd at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

Then he modestly claimed low expectations facilitated his rapturous reception. Not so much.

The big crowd brought a big buzz with them, primed by Shimabukuro’s YouTube sensation “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and pumped by WMHT’s early airing of the PBS documentary “Life on Four Strings” — it goes national May 10. And Shimabukuro exploded even the loftiest of expectations with a performance of towering technical prowess and warmly engaging charm.

Shimabukuro toggled between zippy open-hand strumming, precise finger-picking and thumb-plucking in a virtuoso opening run of “Island Fever Blues,” “More Ukulele” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Striking guitar-hero poses, grinning or grimacing, glowing in dramatic lights — which strobed when he went staccato, etching the ceiling with geometric glows — Shimabukuro played either many notes really quickly or slower passages, gracefully shaped; and all of it breathing elegantly.

Shimabukuro cited the spontaneous origin of “Missing 3” — he wrote it as an experiment while restringing his uke — then he played perhaps his most serene, unhurried moments. In “Ukulele Five-O,” he revved into riff overdrive at dangerous tempos. After slow ones “Blue Roses Falling” and “Fields of Gold” — with the lights, of course, conveying those tones — brother Bruce brought out his own uke.

The brothers had and delivered big fun with the zippy “Tokada” and the vintage surf-rock number “Wipeout,” even echoing its trademark stuttering drum break.

Speaking more as the show unfolded, Shimabukuro talked of, and made music about, fatherhood in “Gentlemandolin,” and even this heartfelt number gave virtuoso delight. Then it was uptempo again for the fire-breathing “Dragon,” Shimabukuro plugging in an effects board to honor electric rock heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen with electricity of his own, including loops, distortion, hammer-ons and harmonics.

After thumbing a wailing solo, bristling with feedback fire, he returned to the uke’s natural sound for the coda — a technique he used in many songs, as if to reward the audience with some soothing quiet after riding them hard.

Shimabukuro stayed with rock songs late, with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” his own “Orange World” and, of course, the Beatles’ classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He didn’t bother leaving the stage after this, his best-known number, instead becoming quietly lyrical for his encore of “Akata Falls” from “Grand Ukulele,” his most recent album.

Producer Alan Parsons added strings and other effects on the album; Jake joked Parsons put 100 string players on “Missing 3” — his three-string ukulele reverie. But as Shimabukuro said in a phone interview Monday, he wrote everything as solo pieces, so he didn’t need any help — brother Bruce’s visit aside — to give each song everything it needed.

Shimabukuro gave the audience more than just thrilling technique, spanning the most delicate melodic beauty and most hard-driving energy. He gave music — direct, from a friendly and generous heart, through a much maligned instrument, with fingers that moved at times too fast to see, almost too fast to hear.

 
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