At show time, Jake Shimabukuro stepped on stage, took a bow and got right to it.
With a smile on his face, he began strumming his ukulele, which looked like a guitar in his arms.
But the chords he effortlessly plucked and played were not the casual tones typical of traditional Hawaiian compositions. They were soaring. They were fast.
Shimabukuro took one of the simplest instruments and made it orchestral.
The YouTube star turned international touring artist captivated the crowd of 350-plus Wednesday night at the State Theatre. With just four strings, he stretched
the boundaries of the ukulele into genre-bending, energetic instrumentals.
Shimabukuro didn’t speak until three songs in, which included a folk-rock, almost Celtic sounding, cover of Adele’s hit song “Rolling in the Deep.”
He told the story of how he got to work with rock legend Alan Parsons, who worked on classic albums with the Beatles, Pink Floyd and his own Alan Parsons
Project. Parsons would go on to produce Shimabukuro’s latest record, “Grand Ukulele.”
Wednesday’s show featured several tracks from that album and every song had a story. “This song was inspired by my favorite Hawaii-based TV show,”
Shimabukuro said before breaking out into “Ukulele Five-0.” He also shared the story of his new born son and how it became the song, “Gentlemandolin.”
As a child, his mother gave him a ukulele and taught him three chords.
“With three chords, you can play 300 traditional Hawaiian songs,” he said with a laugh. “I just loved it.”
Today, Shimabukuro finds inspiration in all genres and eras, from Bach to Van Halen. Midway through the set, Shimabukuro’s brother Bruce joined him on stage. Five years the younger and a ukulele expert himself, Bruce and Jake jammed on two songs together, including an especially raucous rendition of Bruce’s own “Tokada.”
“I am going to let him unleash the fire,” Jake Shimabukuro said before the brothers showed off their dueling, lightning-fast fingers. The crowd roared.
Before concluding the evening with a rock medley, Jake Shimabukuro shared the intimate side to his songs. The nylon strings of his ukulele provided sincere tones for passionate ballads like “Blue Roses Falling” and Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” He told more stories about the inspiration for his music, and repeatedly expressed his gratefulness for the opportunity to play his homeland’s instrument for people all over the world.
Even though there was no true encore, Shimabukuro played an encore-like set list starting off with “Dragon,” his “salute to the rock gods.”
He plugged in and with a looped riff thrashed in true rock and roll form for a classic five-plus minute solo. He followed up the epic opus with his cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song that made him a YouTube sensation. The night ended with George Harrison’s “My Guitar Gently Weeps” and a traditional Hawaiian song called “Akaka Falls,” which closes Shimabukuro’s latest album.
Just as he started, Shimabukuro took a bow. The crowd was on its feet. He gripped his ukulele, the only instrument his audience saw that night, and walked off the stage.