When you attend a Kalini Pe’a concert, it’s nothing less than spectacular. If it falls on a holiday (in this case a lover’s holiday), it’ll be over the top!
This was the two-time Grammy winner’s third appearance at the Kahilu Theatre, and it was jam-packed with dancers, a set by The Lim Family, and a few numbers from guitarist Wailau Ryder and his daughters. We also got to witness Pe’a sing for his family who was escorted on stage during the second half of the show.
The two-hour concert opened with a stunning oli by guitarist Aiau Koa. There were parts where he created a reverb effect with his voice, resembling the moving whammy bar on a guitar. It was followed by an oli by Pe’a, in his commanding voice, not yet on stage. And then he entered. Dressed in a vibrant red sequin jacket, that he said he picked up for $99 on Amazon, Pea’ shouted, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” The crowd responded with loud cheers. The mood was set and Pe’a sprinkled love songs throughout his performance.
There was also a sense of honor in Pe’a voice and gestures as he acknowledged various Big Island family members in the audience and talked about his humble roots in his hometown Hilo. Like the time he made his public singing debut, dressed in an oversized suit from Men’s Warehouse, Pe’a recalled performing The Temptation’s big hit “Just My Imagination” at a talent show in front of JC Penny’s. It was the first song he learned to sing when he was just 8-years-old. Pe’a said it was a memorable occasion for him up until a few mynah birds took aim and pooped on his jacket! Despite the embarrassment, the singer fondly reminisced about his early days when the family listened to American Roots music, jazz, R&B records until 4 a.m. while eating what he called “Hawaiian homestead food,” chili, rice, and shoyu chicken.
After a brief intermission, the second half of the show featured a three-song set by The Lim Family, Sonny Lim, Nani Lim Yap, and Lorna Lim. Sonny recently played one of the intimate Mike Luce Studio’s Unplugged Series shows, and it was nice to see him back in the spotlight on the Theatre’s main stage. The Lim Family offered a beautiful rendition of The Carpenter’s classic, “Yesterday Once More.”
Pe’a then introduced Wēkiu (13) and Wehi (17), daughters of Lorna Lim and Wailau Ryder, for their debut performance. Ryder accompanied his daughters on acoustic guitar. One of their songs was “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which many might recall from Elvis Presley’s 1961 film Blue Hawaii.
Returning to the stage, Pe’a now sported a light suede jacket and bright red cap. He sang “Ku’u Poli’ahu,” a song he wrote when he was 18 while registered in a college course called Hawaiian Music Compositions. Pe’a brought out hula dancers Ho’olai Berman and Namakana Lim-Carvalho of Halau Manaola to accompany him. These were two of the three original dancers featured in his viral 2016 YouTube video, and they wore the same outfits.
The most touching part of the show was when Pe’a invited his family members to the stage, including his father Arthur, who recently underwent surgery. Pe’a sang “Nani A Maika’i” to his ohana, who were all dressed in purple, Kalani’s favorite color. (As captured in this cell phone video.) Several audience members noted on Facebook the day after the concert that this segment brought them to tears.
For his hana hou, Pe’a performed a Motown medley, sung both in Hawaiian and English. He acknowledged his two Grammy awards, but added, “Accolades do not define who I am. I’m the same Pana’ewa homestead boy from the guava fields, and proud to be from Hilo!” Kalani then invited the audience to stand for “Hawai’i Aloha.” With the house lights up, the audience held hands and sang along to this very special song.
Oli – no Mauna Kea (Aiau Koa) | Oli (Kalani Pe’a) | He Lei Aloha No Hilo | Hilo March | Just My Imagination | Superstar | You Are So Beautiful | Always & Forever | Ke ‘A’a O Na Lani | He Wehi Aloha |
Ku’u Poli’ahu | Me & Mrs. Jones | All is Fair in Love | Bring Him Home | Nani A Maika’i | E Na Kini |
R&B medley: I Feel Good/Isn’t She Lovely/Ooh Baby Baby/ My Girl | Hawai’i Aloha |
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby