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The dancing fingers of Jake Shimabukuro

Uke attack

Whether he's covering Pink Floyd and the Beatles, playing a Hawaiian traditional, or writing one of his own elaborate pieces, Jake Shimabukuro has gained the respect of musicians and fans around the globe. Press photo

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I think we each have that friend who "discovers" Facebook memes that made the rounds two years ago. We think, "How can he just now be seeing this? Has he really never heard ‘The Bed Intruder Song?' Does he still think Rick rolling is funny?" Last month I was that guy, as that's when I discovered Jake Shimabukuro. For months, people posted his videos, but I never looked at a single one. His YouTube channel has been viewed tens of million times, yet I could barely pronounce his last name. It's "Shee-ma-BOO-koo-roh," incidentally. If you're not a total haole like me, feel free to refer to his instrument as an "oo-koo-LAY-lay." Otherwise, it's just the humble uke, a lute instrument that dates to the 19th century but is valued about one step higher than a kazoo.

It's time for that condescension to change - long past time, in fact, if Facebook is any indication. I encountered Shimabukuro through his much-admired rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," a piece that went viral in YouTube's infancy. Since then he's toured with Jimmy Buffett and played the West Hollywood House of Blues, B.B. King's Nightclub in New York, Bumbershoot and popular TV and radio talk shows. He's a household name in Japan, where he's the ambassador for Hawai'ian tourism. His instrument has only four strings with little sustain and can cover a mere two octaves from middle C up, but that's close to the range of the average human voice. Thus, Shimabukuro has all of the popular music at his disposal. He's uploaded mesmerizing covers of "Every Breath You Take," "Hallelujah," "In My Life," "Rolling in the Deep," and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." One of his many TED appearances included "Bohemian Rhapsody," played in full with no help from snazzy effects pedals. For a change of style, check out his take on Bach's challenging "Two-Part Invention No. 4 in D Minor." One seldom gets a chance to say this about a ukulele player, but this Shimabukuro cat rocks.

If you think he's charming and talented on YouTube, wait till you see him in person. His fingers leap and dance like the jumping flea for which the ukulele was named. He pulls sounds from his instrument that have no business being in there. It's like the Most Interesting Man in the World says: "I don't always listen to ukulele, but when I - " Wait, you've heard this one before?

JAKE SHIMABUKURO, 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $19-$69, 253.591.5894

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