Oahu-based Beat-Lele performed their first Hilo concert last Saturday at the Palace Theatre. It was an evening full of Baby Boomer nostalgia, and even opening act Kris Fuchigami managed to work a Beatles’ tune into his set.
In my life, (pun intended), I watched the original 1964 Ed Sullivan broadcast of the Beatles, met George Harrison at a tiny grocery store on Maui, and attended The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, but never thought I’d see a Beatles’ tribute concert played on ukuleles.
It makes sense. With thousands of world-wide Beatles tribute bands, why shouldn’t Hawaii have their own homage to the Fab Four? Nolet Quiason, who represents Paul McCartney’s part in the group, explained to the audience, “I think we’re the only band doing it exclusively on our humble island instrument, the ukulele. We strive to recreate the excitement of Beatlemania, and that’s why we’re called the Fab Four on four strings.”
Another aspect that separates Beat-Lele from other tributes is that they chose not to wear fake Beatle wigs and matching uniforms, or use phony Beatle accents. Instead of a guy sitting behind a Ludwig drum kit, Dennis Muth (“Ringo”) plays the cajón. I had my doubts that it’d work, but it did. Muth complements the cajón by adding in a crash cymbal along with a hi-hat. On “And I Love Her,” he switched over to a pair of claves, and on “Drive My Car,” a lady from the audience joined with cowbell percussion.
The timing for this show in Hilo couldn’t have been better. Just the day before, a hugely expanded 50th anniversary reissue of The Beatles was released. The double album that has been known as the White Album, hit record stores in November 1968. The new anniversary edition houses six CDs and a Blu-ray disc with high-definition mixes. Beat-Lele made sure to include a few songs from this iconic album as part of their set.
A brilliant rendition of “Elenore Rigby” was featured in the first set. On the original track, George Martin brought in four violins, and two violas, but Alastar McNeil (“George”) created an almost harp-like sound on his uke and gave the dark and edgy song an entirely different feel. McNeil also had some fun with Harrison’s “Taxman,” another track off Revolver, The Beatles’ seventh studio album.
Sonny Aquino did a fantastic job as Lennon’s contribution to the vast Beatle’s songbook. His vocals were spot-on with “Help” and “Come Together.” It’s easy to understand why Beat-Lele was invited to play International Beatle Week Festival in Liverpool, England, and are off to play a tour of Northern California.
Big Island’s Kris Fuchigami opened the show and took us on a 40-minute thrill-ride of tunes, featuring Santana’s “Europa,” Frankie Vallie’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” from the Disney film Cinderella. Fuchigami was accompanied by his mom Keiko on keyboard and said that at the end of each tour of California he likes to take her to Disneyland as a thank you.
Rising star Fuchigami, now 28, picked up an ukulele when he was thirteen and was inspired by the great master Jake Shimabukuro. In his set Fuchigami mentioned that after a year of practice he got a little too cocky and felt he could easily win every competition that came along. “Foolishly I thought you had to play fast to be good –” revealed Fuchigami, “I ended up in last place and losing to a six-year-old girl.” Fuchigami then played his original “30 for 30,” a song he said was inspired about the time he skipped school for 30 days in a row, so he could practice music with friends.
Fuchigami’s musical perseverance eventually paid off. In 2016 he was nominated for the prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano Award in Hawaii for the Instrumental Composition of the Yearcategory for his song “Moemoea.” This year he was nominated for another such award for Ukulele Album of the Year with his album More Than This.
Listen to an interview with Kris Fuchigami and Beat-Lele
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
For the latest Beat-Lele music and tour news, please visit: https://www.beatle-lele.com
Kris Fuchigami has music and more on his website: https://www.krisfuchigami.com
Also, check out the UH Hilo Jazz Orchestra’s 2018 tribute to The Beatles: https://bigislandmusic.net/review-all-you-need-is-love-and-beatles/