Even some of the ukulele-toting faithful who had brought their instruments for the play-along numbers in this unusual (to say the least) program seemed a little surprised at the sheer exuberance with which the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain took the stage. With a combination of uncanny ensemble synchronization, virtuosic individual musicianship, and a deeply droll sense of the absurd about the concert as a form, the orchestra plucked, strummed, and sang the Campbell Hall audience into a delirious state of musical anarchy. From a lugubrious opening verse of “Jingle Bells” (played that way in order to heighten the cheeriness of the rest) to idiosyncratic and highly animated covers of classic songs by Talking Heads, AC/DC, Nirvana, and Kraftwerk, there were simply no predictable choices made all night.
The highlights included a remarkably complete version of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and two mash-up medleys in which the group demonstrated the ukulele’s potential as a detector of musical plagiarism, finding common chord patterns on which to hang everything from Handel to the Pussycat Dolls. Fearless singers, consummate whistlers, and ready wits to a man (plus one woman), the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are an irrational treasure.