Rising Japanese singer-songwriter Yui led her four-member band with confidence, switching between electric and acoustic guitar and the keyboard.
It was the kind of vibrant live performance that has helped the 24-year-old former street performer, whose full name is Yui Yoshioka, win fans across Japan. Now she has taken her act overseas, staging her first foreign show in the southern Chinese territory of Hong Kong late Sunday.
The capacity audience at the 14,000-seat AsiaWorld-Expo Arena on outlying Lantau Island stood and clapped throughout a two-hour set except for a brief acoustic section when Yui asked them to sit down.
The young fans nodded their heads in appreciation even though they didn't appear to follow the lyrics closely. Yui brought in some local help — popular Hong Kong rapper Eric Kot made a guest appearance dressed in a neon yellow jacket and matching shorts, bantering with the Japanese singer in a mixture of Cantonese and Japanese. But the cultural bridge didn't appear to be needed. Eager fans demanded an encore with passionate chants of "Yui."
It's easy to understand Yui's appeal in the former British colony with a long history of affection for Japanese pop culture. While Hong Kong singers crank out mellow, sappy ballads largely generated by the same pool of songwriters, Yui offers an energetic rock sound combined with upbeat lyrics about overcoming hardship and realizing one's dreams — as well as the joys of puppy love. The lyrics' Chinese translations are widely available on fan websites.
The native of the southern city Fukuoka started out as a street musician in her hometown before moving to Tokyo in search of a record deal. She released her first single in December 2004, followed by her debut album, "From Me to You," in 2006.
Her career took off with her starring role in the popular 2006 film "Taiyo no Uta," or "Midnight Sun." Yui's earnest performance as a Japanese teenager whose skin condition confines her to night activity — she plays the guitar in the deserted streets of a coastal city — won her the best newcomer prize at the Japanese Academy Awards. The film's theme song, "Goodbye Days," which she penned, quickly became a hit. On Sunday, she wrapped up her Hong Kong show with a guitar solo of "Goodbye Days," which she performed sitting at the edge of the stage without a microphone to a silent audience that erupted in applause afterward.
Yui's next album, the April 2007 release "Can't Buy My Love" spent two weeks at No. 1 on Japan's Oricon weekly pop album charts. She followed up in 2008 with another best-selling album, "I Loved Yesterday," which also topped the Oricon album charts. Her latest release, last year's "Holidays in the Sun," also reached No. 1.
Yui told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday that she was inspired by street performers in Fukuoka to take up the guitar and join their ranks.
"I've been helped a lot by music, so when I write music, I want to give back to music. I carry the mindset of gratitude. I want the people who listen to my music to feel the message of gratitude," Yui said through a translator.
She said she is constantly composing — "I could be washing my clothes and hanging my clothes and have an idea."
Asked if she wants to showcase her musical talent beyond Hong Kong, Yui responded, "There are many places I want to visit."