Regal Theatre, Sat, March 16th
Arriving on stage looking like the Blues Brothers’ ukulele cousins the Ukulele Death Squad don’t waste any time launching into their peculiar brand of musical freneticism. Three ukes and a saxophone is the line up as they attack their original songs with a dramatic and physical style that exudes and creates energy.
The three ukulele players may be playing little instruments that look like ukes, but such is contemporary sound technology that much of the time they sound equivalent to the standard bass, rhythm and lead guitar line-up of many groups. They do play songs where they actually sound like they’re playing ukulele, but often they occupy this curious space that crosses the lines of many musical boundaries – think Dan Hicks, or Pokey LaFarge. It’s a blend of jazz, swing, gypsy, flamenco and a fast paced shuffle. But whatever it is they’re playing they play it really well. Julian Ferguson on baritone and Ben Roberts are almost in the virtuoso class such is the speed of their playing – all the while hamming it up with comic movement like Split Enz used to do. It’s no mean feat, compelling to watch, and must be totally exhausting to play.
Lots of comic banter spills out between songs – Eamonn Burke on bass and Reuben Legge on sax seems to cop most of it, but they also give plenty of it back. A deliberately out of key sax solo played with great feeling was a really funny moment. Everyone shares responsibility for vocals and many songs feature all four voices in harmony.
The Ukulele Death Squad has created something special and the big crowd was testament to their appeal. They’ve cannily exploited the incredible recent rise in popularity of the ukulele. Someone wrote that the Death Squad may just make the ukulele cool again. Well it’s mission accomplished! I think I might just go and buy one.
(This review also published in The Clothesline.)