Jake Shimabukuro @ Shibuya Bunkamura Orchard Hall (Sept. 29th, 2015)

Original Youtube hero returns to Japan
Live Report : “Original Youtube hero returns to Japan” @ Shibuya Bunkamura Orchard Hall 2015.09.29

Jake Shimabukuro

Youtube has brought us a mixed bag of goodies over the years but there is no denying its’ power to change lives and create stars. In terms of views, the masses have always gravitated towards music. Some of the top videos of all time include, Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”, whose view counts have eclipsed the billion mark. Let’s go back a little further. Some 9 years ago a video titled “Ukulele weeps by Jake Shimabukuro” hit the web, with the simple description, “this guy is a god on a ukulele”. 14 millions views later and people are still being enlightened to the God-like abilities of Jake Shimabukuro strumming away on his Ukulele.

I can now consider myself as one of the enlightened. I had vaguely heard of Jake before going to his show, which was his second consecutive Tokyo show (taking place in a packed Bunkamura concert hall). I decided to steer clear of videos of his performances before the show for a firsthand introduction to the ukulele God. I was glad I did.

Jake is back in Japan touring his new album, ‘Travels’, which dropped a few months ago in Japan and is set to be released next week in America. Shimabukuro, a fifth-generation Japanese-American is loved here in Japan. While most international artists play a show or two on their Japan tour, Jake is slotted for 9 shows all around the country.

Jake ShimabukuroHis music is clearly rooted in Hawaiian traditions, however influences can be heard coming from Japan, American, rock music, classical, pop and more. It’s not common for a solo musician to come on stage and rock a show for 2 hours with instrumental music, let alone an obscure instrument like a ukulele, but that’s exactly what happened on this night. This just speaks to the raw talent Shimabukuro has on an instrument normally associated with hula dances or laid back luaus. It’s a shame his chosen instrument isn’t taken as seriously as say, the guitar, an instrument in the same family, but worshipped in a way the little ukulele never will be. That said, Jake’s virtuosity could easily be compared to established instrumental guitar Gods like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Jason Becker and Buckethead; he’s just that good.

While the Shimabukuro live experience is known for the solo natural ukulele sound, the new album tour features a bassist and keyboardist joining him on a slew of tracks to add the the depth of the sound. Shimabukuro also made use of an effects pedal on a couple tracks midway through to deliver some intense, hard rocking solos. With the medals in play, sounds clearly resembled the electric guitar, allowing Jake to pay tribute to some of his favourite rock guitarists and also add to his own legacy. Exclusive to this Tokyo show was the inclusion of special guests Def Tech, a two-man Hawaiian/Japanese reggae outfit who joined Jake on stage for a couple tracks to rap and sing over his ukulele.

Jake Shimabukuro The rest of the show featured a mix of tunes from his new album and fan favourites from his past. His mannerisms, like his music were a mix of influences from Japanese and Hawaiian culture. He introduced each tune in a mixture of Japanese and English and then ended them with fist bumps to his band and Shaka signs to the crowd. Songs played off the new album included “Low Rider”, “Red-Eye”, “Everything Is Better With You” and “Ichigo Ichie”, which he introduced to the crowd by saying “Nihon no kotoba daisuki desu” (I love Japanese words).

The show wouldn’t be complete without Jake throwing down a few of his famed Youtube smashes. He played an extremely vocal version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and ended with George Harrison’s classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which he turned into a 10 minute ukulele epic. The Bunkamura crowd was ecstatic all the way through and I knew they wouldn’t let Jake off the hook without an encore track or two. He was back in a flash ripping up the small instrument, finger picking and strumming away like a man possessed. He urged the crowd to get up and dance and in 10 seconds the classy theatre turned into a dance party. It was over too quick but Jake’s Japan tour is just beginning. If you didn’t get a chance to see him in Tokyo I highly urge you to check him out on another stop.

–>Photo Report from previous night’s show used in this report

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