Labeled America's Malaysian Sweetheart, Yuna's performance was every bit sweet and full of heart.
Opening the early show, Jarell Perry did his mediocre Frank Ocean impression. His set made you think of that kid in high school who sang at every talent show and assembly—a good singer, but maybe not a star. You could see him trying out for a competition show like American Idol and not making it to the top twenty. Perry just didn't seem like he was ready. On songs like "Miracle," his voice really showed what he can do at his best. And his covers/samples of Drake's "Come Through" and Temper Trap's "Love Lost" were good. His set made you aware of all the imperfections in his singing, the arrangements, and music. For his first performance in DC, this was not a great first impression.
In contrast, Yuna was near perfection from start to finish. Starting with "Coffee" was a great way to kick off her set—not too mellow or loud. The smooth, jazzy song made you realize immediately that the recordings do not do her voice justice. There is an innocent quality to the sultriness in the way she sings that makes you think of that sought after girl next door. And this girl next door has talent.
She followed it up with "Falling," an upbeat, soul, dance track that makes you think of Quadron. And for good reason, the track was produced by Robin Hannibal of Quadron. Though you can recognize the influence, Yuna still makes the song what it is. Similarly, the audience was transfixed when she brought the mood down a little for "Mountains." She could have been singing the periodic table of elements and no one would have cared.
A part of the success of her performance was due to her backing band. They really brought the songs to life. Every song was enhanced by their stellar playing. Nothing was over done or not in line with the vision she had for the songs. Especially on songs like "Right Again," where the bass line on the funky, yacht rock-esque, song was perfect. Performances like these further make the case that live shows are necessary.
Clearly this crowd didn't need convincing, they went wild when "Lullabies," one of Yuna's more popular songs, began to play. You could feel what she was feeling when the song was written, and possibly what she feels every time she sings the song. It would have been a great opportunity to feature just a portion of the song. It didn't need to be acoustic, but it would have been nice to hear just her voice and the piano to emphasize the emotion. A few songs later she did exactly that, except with guitar, for a version of "Decorate." And it had the expected effect, allowing her voice to really be the star.
As much as she is a talented singer, she is also a talented song writer. This is "one of the first songs I wrote when I was nineteen, sorry if it sounds a little cheesy and corny," she said as she introduced "Deeper Conversation." She was obviously the songwriter every wannabe teenage songwriter thinks they are.
She even turned other artists’ songs into something more. Where Perry did not quite succeed, Yuna excelled. Her cover of Frank Ocean's "Thinking About You" got one of the loudest responses of the night. She completely made it her own, with touches of her Malaysian accent slipping in here and there. Despite the crowd's enthusiasm when they realized that was the next song, and after she was done, she still asked "did you guys like that?" And when they responded with cheers and yeses, she said "good, cause that was hard." Understandable, but she makes it look so effortless.
She breezed through a few more songs, including "Bad Idea," that she "dedicated to all of you who have fallen in love with the wrong kind of person.” "Escape," a groovy R&B-soul song that she revealed that she wrote about herself. And "Rescue," a head bopping, toe tapping, pop tune, with a tropical feel. She seemed genuinely touched by the amount of people who came out to see her. "Never in my life did I think I would sell out shows," she said in slight disbelief.
For her encore, she performed "Live Your Life," the lead single from her self-titled album. The George Benson sounding jazzy, R&B song isn't the best showcase of her voice. It certainly wasn't the best of the night either, but it got the crowd moving.
Yuna's talent is undeniable and hopefully, as she gets more exposure, more people will get to experience what the crowd got to experience at U Street Music Hall last night.