The stage was lit up by dim, blue lights, and held a few guitars, a rug, and a loop tool machine. This was the setup for Keller Williams, when he and Jake Shimabukuro co-headlined at Pollack Theatre on Friday, Oct. 25.
The theater was about half full, with an audience that ranged from freshman college students to middle age adults. A lot of the audience members wore Hawaiian shirts or puca-shell necklaces, which fit with the atmosphere due to the headliner being famous for playing the ukulele. When I heard that the main act was famous for strumming the playful Hawaiian instrument, I assumed that the concert would be very chill and possibly a bit boring. I was completely wrong.
Williams walked barefoot onto the stage while playing his acoustic guitar and went on to play two songs. At the end of the second song, he introduced us to the glue of his entire act: his loop machine. A loop machine is a device that can record multiple instruments at a time and play it back to create layers for the song. Williams did this for us live on stage. His ability to use the loop machine was extremely unique, as were his songs.
Williams showed that he has a great sense of humor when one of his songs started with a loud “Oh no! I just remembered I left a doobie in my pocket…” His songs also consisted of a wide vocal range, although the higher notes were a bit pitchy at points. He used the levels of his voice as sound effects in later songs by using the amazing machine.
At the end of Williams’ set, Shimabukuro appeared to duet with the one-man-band, adding his ukulele into the mix of the many instruments playing. The two covered the “Price Tag” by Jessie J, a song that fits the stereotypical idea of what a ukulele player would be a part of: calm and positive. With each pluck and strum, Shimabukuro showed deep emotion on his face, and often stared up at the ceiling. It was a good indication that his set would be full of passion.
The lights go up and intermission begins for the concert. There are murmurs in the crowd of how talented Williams is, and how they are excited for Shimabukuro to play. Audience member Chris T., a junior at the University, said that “[Williams] is a great guitarist, but a better musician…definitely a solid opener for what should be a good act later.”
The duets were also a big hit in the audience, which audience member Ryan Kelly enjoyed. Kelly said, “It was really cool to see a guy who is very good at guitar, and a guy who is very good at ukulele clashing, and covering popular songs.” The duets were a good teaser for the audience, and we all showed our excitement when all the seats filled up again as the lights flashed to signal the end of the intermission.
The theater stayed dark, and as Shimabukuro began to walk on stage, lights started to dance across the ceiling. His first song set standards that I did not know a ukulele was capable of setting.
There were slow, soft parts; fast, passionate parts; everything in between. It shocked me when I realized this set was not going to be filled with cheery 3-chord Hawaiian pieces, but actual instrumental artistries.
Personally, I am not a fan of all instrumental music, but I was amazed throughout the entire set. As each song changed emotion and theme, the lights dancing on the walls and ceiling would change color and speed. The backdrop of the stage was lit in a soft blue for slower songs, and a deep red for intense songs.
Shimabukuro also spoke to the audience in between almost every song, connecting with us in a way that made us feel like we were as emotionally dedicated to the ukulele as he was. For one of his songs, he told us that it was written by accident when he realized that the third string of his ukulele was missing. It was a very delicate piece, and Shimabukuro’s proud description of his three-string song definitely made it more enjoyable to listen to.
He also shared with us a song he based off of his favorite TV show, which he named “Ukulele 5-O” which brought laughter from the audience.
Shimabukuro also surprised the audience with songs that he said were inspired by rock music. He told us that he was determined to make ukulele concerts much like his first rock concert, Van Halen. Shimabukuro also did a great cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which had audience members, including myself, quietly singing along as he played.
To close the show Shimabukuro played the song which started it all, which is a YouTube video that went viral of him playing a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles. The song was amazing and really showed why Shimabukuro deserved to have the recognition that he had earned.
After a huge standing ovation by the entire crowd, Shimabukuro decided to play an encore. He played his favorite tradition Hawaiian pieces, which he explained by saying it was Hawaii’s “Ave Marie.” The song was, in fact, incredibly beautiful, and was a great way to officially close the show. It was peaceful, and had a beautiful melody, as Shimabukuro had told us. Whether or not you like the sound of a ukulele, Shimabukuro takes it to a whole new level. I suggest you check him out and listen to his last album, Grand Ukulele.
PHOTO TAKEN from monmouth.edu