Last night DC-ers were met with bitter cold and bonechilling winds, but those who were at the Birchmere were ever so briefly transported somewhere far warmer thanks to Jake Shimabukuro. The Hawaiian—playing his first sold out Birchmere show—captivated with 90 minutes of stunning ukulele instrumentals that drew on everything from Japanese folk music to Leonard Cohen.
Shimabukuro, who has been playing ukulele for 30 of his 34 years, introduced each song with a brief tale about its genesis, charming the audience with his goofy sense of humor as he compared cover songs to wearing a favorite player’s basketball jersey and told stories about competing against his brother in a talent show (that’s one that definitely needs to be heard in person). The most moving moment of the evening came when Shimabukuro played “Go for Broke,” a song on his new album Peace Love Ukulele inspired by the Japanese-American soldiers who fought in World War II as part of the 442ndBattalion: before the song, he introduced three white-haired veterans who were sitting in the audience; after, both the crowd and Jake gave the men a standing ovation.
The other songs in his set showed how versatile the ukulele can be in the hands of a virtuoso as Shimabukuro played the delicate and lovely “Pianoforte,” mimicked the flamenco guitar of Carlos Montoya on “Let’s Dance,” and did his best Eddie Van Halen impersonation on “Bring Your Adz,” a song that was inspired by repeated teenage viewings of a Van Halen concert video. “I thought, that’s what a ukulele concert should sound like!” exclaimed Shimabukuro. Ending his set with a stunning version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (you don’t realize how complicated the song is until you’ve heard it played on the two octave uke), Shimabukuro returned for an encore with the Hawaiian song “Crazy G,” responding to the audience’s shouts of “Faster!” until his strumming hand was a blur on the instrument’s four strings.
If Shimabukuro wasn’t so fond of the Birchmere (he was especially delighted about the washing machine backstage so he “wouldn’t stink”) I’d say this might have been the last show he’s played at the venue: he could fill the 9:30 Club—with people and sound—easily.
143 (Kelly’s Song)
Blue Roses Falling
Five Dollars Unleaded
Bring Your Adz
Go For Broke EDIT: Here’s footage from the Birchmere show.
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Encore: Crazy G