That was Jake Shimabukuro at the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
The Hawaiian with the hummingbird hands and the Spider-man moves was so inventive, he even made me re-like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, possibly the most abused, overplayed song of all time.
With a little help from his friends, guitarist David Preston and bassist Nolan Verner, Shimabukuro infused magic into the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, too. The Zombies’ Time of the Season rose from the dead, and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody dared the audience to sing along.
That’s the thing about this show. One usually thinks of the ukulele as a humble accompanist: A sweet little strummer for backing vocalists.
But Thursday’s concert was instrumental from start to finish, with the emphasis on instrument.
Shimabukuro makes his little four-stringed baby do the impossible. It’s a drum. It’s a lute. It’s an electric guitar. Those strings must be treated with some flame-retardant material; there were moments of syncopated frenzy when spontaneous combustion seemed imminent.
Shimabukuro wrung a poignant tribute from that uke, to Japanese-American soldiers of World War II (Go for Broke).
He rescued the second-most plundered tune in history, Over the Rainbow (here, an ethereal solo homage to the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole version). He tamed unruly dissonant musical intervals in an exercise called TriTone, and transformed the “My / Dog /Has /Fleas” tuning meme into a rollicking journey, Travels.
There’s a playfulness about the guy that is captivating. Like he can’t believe the sounds he’s making, either, or how much fun he’s having making them.
The presentation was enhanced by Danielle Edwards’ superb light show, a swirling bath of blues and greens that made the master pop.
By the time the 40-year-old Shimabukuro got to his encore — the song that made him a YouTube sensation, the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps — you can bet that many uke players in the crowd were contemplating turning their instruments into kindling.
Too bad mine is plastic.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin: