Goapele with Yuna

El Rey Theatre


Better than… Autotune

The El Rey Theatre is one of those venues that inspires artists to bring something special to the stage. Last night, Goapele and Yuna did just that, proving that classic soul music will never go out of style.

Opening the night was Malaysian pop artist Yuna, who has been promoting her self-titled album since April. Tall and thin in a chic red blazer, she approached the microphone wearing her signature colorful head wrap. Most of the audience was caught up in conversations and seemed not to know who this artist was. She introduced herself in a soft sweet voice, began to sing then dropped the hard-hitting bassy beat to “Lullabies.” Everyone immediately shut up and looked up at her like, “Oh shit, what's this?”

Yuna; Credit: Eddie Cota

Yuna; Credit: Eddie Cota

When she moved here from Malaysia two years ago, the first concert she went to was Peter Bjorn and John at the El Rey. She thought to herself, “One day I'm going to play this venue.” With each song backed by her one-man band Lincoln Jesser on keys, laptop, and everything else, she kept the crowd curious for what would come next. She mentioned to us later that she wants a band so bad, but at the moment it's all about keeping it simple and building a fan base.

During her set, several people pulled out their iPhones and tried using the Shazam app to recognize the songs she was playing. The app is not supposed to work for live music, only recordings. Sneaking a glance at their phone screens, we saw that Yuna sounded so clean, the songs popped up.

When she ended with the Pharrell Williams-produced “Live Your Life,” more people realized who she was and those who were excited to be in-the-know made sure their friends remembered her.

The crowd was now ready for Goapele. The stage had a very classic, almost Motown vibe setting with her full-band and backup singers she calls “The Rumor.” The beginning of her set was mellow. Wearing a leopard-print dress, she asked, “How many people from the Bay Area?” A good third of the audience raised their hands as couples cuddled up and singles didn't know what to do with themselves.

The momentum was up and running midway through her set. On the song “Money,” off her latest album Break of Dawn, the guitar player ripped it and at one point, Goapele fell back in line with her back-up singers to finish the song.

After that she played hits like “Closer,” “Play” and “Sunshine.” She played “Runnin” off the soundtrack to the movie Sparkle out in August that stars Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks.

A fan in the crowd called her friend, held it up for about three songs straight and kept screaming into it, “Are you listening!?”

The highlight of the night came when Goapele returned for an encore without her band. She wanted to do something special and take it back to performing in her living room in front of her family growing up, she said. With the stage dark and one narrow light beaming down on her, she sang “At Last” by Etta James. Jaws dropped, phones recorded.

We asked her after the show, “Why 'At Last'?” She didn't plan on performing that until right before the show when someone suggested it to her. “This is one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles and it inspired me to feel vintage and bring something classic,” she said.

Random notebook dump: Yuna has her own line of head wraps and finds fabrics in the Downtown Fashion District's Santee Alley. You can check them out at IAMJETFUEL.

Set list below.


Love me Right

First Love

Milk and Honey

Tears on my Pillow

Got It




Giving Him Something





At Last




Bad Idea


Remember My Name

Live Your Life

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