A ukulele is small and only has four strings, but it pumps out some big sounds, especially in the hands of Jake Shimabukuro, the Hawaiian virtuoso who rose to rock-star fame via YouTube.
Shimabukuro been called the Hendrix of Ukulele (or for you 80s heavy metal fans, the Yngwie of Ukulele, as former Hyphen Music Editor Todd Inoue described him). I saw Shimabukuro play at Yoshi's San Francisco on Monday night, and along with his mad ukulele skills, he had an engaging stage presence when telling the little back-stories to each song before performing it.
"Me & Shirley T" is inspired by his favorite drink as a kid, a Shirley Temple. "Five Dollars Unleaded" was written for his father, whose gas tank seemed to always be on empty. So when father and son got into a car, their first stop was a gas station, and his dad always asked for $5 unleaded when filling up, which, "back then would be a full tank."
Maybe the best story Shimabukuro told was his own. It's about how a little video on YouTube of him playing the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in Central Park went viral and changed his life. He thanked all the people who e-mailed the video. Without YouTube, "none of this would be possible." He paid tribute by wearing a YouTube sweatshirt after the show when he was signing autographs.
In the last three years, Shimabukuro has peformed a duet of the Beatles' "In My Life" with Bette Midler for the Queen of England, toured the world and played with the likes of Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Buffet, Yo-Yo Ma and Bella and the Flecktones.
It's got to be a whirlwind for him, but he seems humble and appreciative, signing autographs for everyone who lined up at Yoshi's even though it probably made him late for his second show of the night. Maybe it's the laid back Hawaiian style. After all, he ended his show by saying, "If everyone played the ukelele, the world would be a happier place." I believe him.