by Chloe Catajan
"It's Yuna's greatest hits!" That's what the Malaysian singer-songwriter dubbed her Berkeley show when telling fans she'd perform songs from all three of her albums. Yuna headlined the UC Theatre on Friday for the Noise Pop Music Festival, living up to her word—and then some. She played songs from across her catalog, each an undeniably rhythmic blend of pop and R&B, but she also teased her fourth record.
"For this album, I was really inspired by old records," Yuna told Last.fm with a smile before her set. She seemed touched that
Last.fm users had left her 'shouts' eager for new material. "I was born and raised in Malaysia so listening to vinyl records was very rare for us. I didn't grow up listening to them, so collecting them was the first thing I got into coming to the US. I wanted to tap into that more—that feeling of being home and comfy, like a lazy afternoon where you just put a vinyl on and listen to it. There's a lot of upbeat songs as well, which reminds me of a young Michael Jackson or a young Whitney Houston."
Yuna performed one new song off her forthcoming LP that she introduced as very special to her. It used a melody inspired by a traditional piece of Malaysian poetry and sang of finding inner strength. Each verse swayed with a subtly funky bassline and jangly guitar licks, while the chorus broke into an upbeat groove propulsed by the drums. But always shining through were Yuna's vocals—powerful, sincere and soft all at once.
Though she told the audience she hadn't performed in a while, Yuna demonstrated her invincible pitch and dynamic range in every single song. She performed "Lullabies" from her 2012 self-titled album, her vocals earthy and warm as she reminisced her first love. Switching gears, Yuna followed with "Falling" off 2013's Nocturnal and prompted everyone to jump along to the dance-friendly bop.
Yuna also revisited a handful of her song collaborations, giving a sweet shoutout to each artist she's worked with. On "Leaving," her most recent collaboration with Canadian DJ Ekali, Yuna and her band amped up its originally whimsical feel with a much fuller, explosive sound. Next up was "Used To Love You," her song with R&B artist Jhené Aiko off 2016's Chapters. And before her set ended, Yuna gave Berkeley a shoutout too.
"I love your cute little city! I could start a family here," she said with the Bay Area crowd cheering and showing love right back.
Yuna closed her first set with "Crush," the steamy cut that originally features Usher. She then returned for an encore, throwing things back with the alluringly feel-good, drum-driven "Live Your Life."
The evening's bill included the diverse talents of Nicotine and ASTU. Nicotine, the Texas-based singer of Nicotine's Famous Honey, preceded Yuna with a set that flowed through influences of neo-soul, R&B and funk. Her charisma, complemented by her flower sleeves and holographic platform boots, hooked audience members right away while her songs inspired them to get into the groove. Her set included the syncopated yet smooth "Running," as well as the funky "Bantu Knots and Boudain," which donned a ripping bassline. Both tracks were off Nicotine's 2019 solo release, An Open Letter.
ASTU opened the night with a beautiful set of mellow R&B slow-burners. The fellow Bay Area, California native had the crowd cheering when she mentioned she was from West Oakland, and then had them moving to cuts like "Staycation / Runaway" and "Paperheart" off 2018 release Patterns, as well as a new song.
(Photos: Chloe Catajan)