BERKELEY — Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna returned to the Bay Area stage Friday night at Berkeley’s UC Theatre after an extended break from the road. The songstress took the opportunity to write and record her fourth studio album before playing the Noise Pop Music Festival and packed her set full older material as well as hinting at things to come with a few new tracks.
“I haven’t done this in a while; I thought you guys forgot about me,” Yuna said early in her hour-long show. Clearly the large Berkeley gathering had not.
She opened with the laidback “Places To Go,” a mid-tempo head-bobber that showcased her pristine vocals and welcoming stage presence. Donning a long floor-length jacket and flowing dress, she effortlessly used an impressive stylistic vocal range.
Yuna continued with the smooth and understated slow jam “Best Love.” Vocally, she was sweet, smokey, nuanced and tender. Her delivery contained the influences of her contemporaries, but offered freshness to make it entirely unique. Her sound was a throwback, but with a modern sheen.
On “I Want You Back” and “Leaving,” Yuna dropped subtle hints about her progress on her forthcoming album. She pointed out how happy she was with some of the artists and producers with whom she was able to collaborate during the process.
“Can I slow things down here for a break-up song?” Yuna asked midway through her set, before breaking into “All I Do.” She then transitioned into the atmospheric, ethereal groove of “Used to Love You.”
Yuna was flanked by a talented trio that adeptly allowed her vocals to shine through. The band remained generally understated and restrained, providing a shimmering backdrop for her to work. But “Falling” came as a certified bop, bouncing along effusively.
Yuna joked that she would make her manager angry by performing a brand new song, but powered ahead anyway with “Forevermore.” She said the song was “not quite ready to play in its final version.” The singer hinted that there would be more surprises to look forward to upon its completion. The version performed was not the final piece but one she had been rehearsing.
Yuna rounded out the concert with “Crush,” giving accolades to Usher—a collaborator on the studio version of the song, before returning to the stage to perform “Live Your Life.”
The night’s undercard featured diverse singer-songwriters ASTU and Nicotine. Houston singer Nicotine offered up a stylistically varied take that included elements of jazz, blues, pop, R&B and rock.
Opening with a dramatic spoken word intro and an extended instrumental, Nicotine described her sexual retribution—newfound love for someone new and harsh words to her prior lover.
“I hope you see me, and I hope you hate me,” Nicotine said of her prior relationship.
East Oakland’s ASTU began the night with tender and subtle jazz-pop songs. The hometown performer found beauty in restraint vocally and musically.
“Nobody can determine your path for you, no one can tell you who you need to be,” she said.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.