Like so many of the best musical acts that make their way here, Jake Shimabukuro first visited Indiana for Bloomington’s Lotus Festival in 2005. Soon to be famous for a YouTube video of him playing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Shimabukuro stunned the small audience at the First Presbyterian Church that autumn. The guy has certainly moved up in the world since then. Having wowed Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel on their late-night shows, the diminutive Hawaii native even inspired Eddie Vedder to record a ukulele album. PBS recently broadcast a documentary on Shimabukuro’s rise to fame.
Last night at Carmel’s Palladium, he played tunes from his new album Grand Ukulele for a crowd of about 1,600. If he’s aware of his celebrity, he wears it lightly. The happy-go-lucky phenom danced his way through a lot of lightning-fast rock pieces, but it was the classical tunes and his friendly interludes at the mic that won us over this time around. He devoted the first half of the show to originals, and filled the second half with interpretations of “Hotel California,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the now requisite “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” But the showstopper was the lilting Hawaiian traditional “Akaka Falls.” Shimabukuro has singlehandedly expanded the reputation of his instrument beyond its narrow Hawaiian reputation, but when he plays the material he grew up with, he has no equal.