I’m ashamed to admit, but after four and a half years living in Nashville, last night I spent my first night at City Winery. It was gorgeously ambient, befitting for acoustic sets and songwriter showcases. Broadcast as an acoustic evening with Yuna, creator of my 2019 favorite Rouge, I went into the evening with high expectations. Except, it wasn’t necessarily an acoustic set. Her production usually features a more polished electronic approach to folk-pop and R&B/soul, so she featured a stripped-down setup of her with her shaker/acoustic guitar, her guitarist and her drummer on an electric kit. I wish I’d walked into a NYC Unplugged-type set, but the focal point of the show was still obvious: her hypnotically smooth, yet raw voice. And, man, it did not disappoint.
I first heard of Yuna back in 2012 with the release of her debut self-titled album. Yet, she’s come a long way in the last seven years. Something to the tune of 3 more albums that include hits like the Usher-aided “Crush”, the famously Adventure Club-remixed “Lullabies” and, most recently, the Tyler, the Creator-featured “Castaway”. My fear was that she may not be able to hold a stage by herself considering that my favorites of hers are mostly collaborations. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly wrong.
Returning to Nashville for the 1st time in seven years, Yuna took the opportunity to tell her story through her setlist and banter. Starting with playing crowd favorites like “Castaway” and “Lullabies”, where she effortless commanded the atmosphere in a room so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Then she went into a brief version of her origin story. Having just moved to the United States, the Muslim Malaysian-American singer caught the attention of Usher with the release of her next song “Coffee”, off of 2011’s Decorate EP. It was slow and hypnotic, using the venue’s ambiance to wash away any stressors the audience came into the night holding onto. To delve back even further into her roots, she dropped my favorite of the night: “Likes” (originally featuring KYLE).
Next came her breakup subset, which, while incredibly beautiful, became a bit flat in tandem with the already calm, quiet audience. Even still, one thing that really stuck with me was her ability to command a small-venue stage and make you lost in the timelessness of her music. She really reminded me of Kali Uchis and Jorja Smith, yet her ability to captivate a large crowd remains to be seen. Finishing out the breakup subset with the David Foster-aided “All I Do”, she decided to bookend with some dancier pieces like Rouge’s “Blank Marquee” (featuring G-Eazy), “Best Love” and “Used to Love You”. Overall: 10/10 recommend catching her live before she blows up.
Written by Sam Harkey
Photography by Ish Picturesque