It’s not what it sounds like. “Orchestra” makes you think of classical music or at least instrumental compositions. While there was a touch of that here and there, this octet of wily Brits was a magnificently outrageous cover band more so than an “orchestra.” They’ve been playing together for over 27 years, which was evident in their chemistry as musicians as well as the chemistry of their personalities. At times, they resembled a comedy troupe which just happened to be made up of excellent uke players, who could harmonize as well or better than any group of eight should be expected to.
They “kicked” off the night with a lively rendition of “Hooray for Hollywood.” I put quotes on “kicked” because they literally went into a synchronized chorus line of kicks to wrap up the tune. They introduced the next song by quipping that they’d recently played it at the university formerly known as Princeton. The highlight of that rendition was certainly the soprano solo that was self-echoed by impressive scatting. Following that, a version of an old Tiny Tim tune brought the audience to wide-eyed delight as the bass uke-player unleashed some unreal whistling ability.
To the pleasure of all, the Orchestra went well beyond old folk tunes and highbrow standards. They worked in R&B numbers such as “Roadrunner,” contemporary tunes from Adele (“Rollin in the Deep”) and Blur (“Song #2”), and even David Byrne’s “Psycho Killer,” a James Bond theme, and David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” The most outrageous of all, however, had to be their rendition of “Shaft,” which eventually led to a call-and-response involving several other words beginning with Sh-. For instance, “who are those furry creatures we see a lot of in New Zealand?” was answered with a harmonized “Sheep.” Just as there was no limit to the genres in their repertoire, so too was there no limit to the range of sounds produced on their little “bonsai guitars.” Percussion solos, slides, and absolute shredding were only some of the tricks up their sleeves. At one point, each member simultaneously played his or her own uke while also playing their neighbor’s—good thing they were all right-handed.
All in all, three soprano ukes, two conerts, one tenor, one baritone, and one bass were so in tune with each other, and just as in tune with the audience, that the engagement was constant, and the pleasant surprises seemingly endless. Bravo to Chico Performances for bringing this world-touring act to our little town. The event was as awesome as the girl who sat next to me.