Livi Yiu’s cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” performed with ukulele and cello. The Santa Monica resident will perform covers of Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya!,” Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop,” and her own originals at Witzend in Venice this Sat., Aug. 3 at 7 p.m.
Livi Yiu will serenade Witzend with originals alongside eccentric covers of Outkast, Usher and Red Hot Chili Peppers
By Michael Aushenker
When you think of rapper Andre 3000, R&B singer Usher or funk-punk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers, the ukulele doesn’t exactly come to mind. And yet, the Hawaiian instrument and hit singles from all of these acts will unite under one daring performance Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Witzend in Venice, courtesy of one lady from Santa Monica: Livi Yiu.
The songstress/songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist who moved to L.A.’s Westside by way of Arlington, TX and her native Hong Kong, mastered the piano at an early age, eventually moving onto cello and guitar. A couple of years ago, she fell hard for the ukulele, of all string instruments, after hearing a musician refer to the uke as “an instrument of peace.”
“You can’t help but smile,” Yiu insisted. “You can’t help but be happy. That’s what I wanted my music to bring –happiness. It’s so pleasant and the tone is so sweet.”
If you think it’s jarring to hear “Pumped-Up Kicks,” Foster the People’s terminally tongue-in-cheek ode to schoolyard mass shootings, interpreted as a mellow Polynesian-style ballad, it’s not as weird as it may seem, Yiu says. A-Ha’s 1980s hit “Take on Me” becomes another natural for her “Yiu-nique” interpolations.
The daughter of graphic designers, Yiu moved from Hong Kong to the U.S. by age 12, relocating to Arlington, because they had relatives already living there.
“I didn’t speak the language,” recalled Yiu, who today speaks flawless English. “I was in ESL (English as a second language), which made me pour myself into music even more.”
This “universal language” led to her becoming “more comfortable” and making friends with fellow musicians and artists. At Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she majored in film and composed her first song for a student film.
“We wanted to make a musical (like the movie) ‘Once,’” she said.
Since becoming enamored with the ukulele, Yiu has made some interesting musical choices with her covers, including the Chili Peppers’ “Hard to Concentrate,” Usher’s “Nice ‘N’ Slow,” and the Outkast classic “Hey Ya!” (one small caveat: she omits the part about the Beyonces and Lucy Lius). Currently, her biggest obsession is tackling Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ tag-poppin’ uber-hit “Thrift Shop.”
Sparing Yiu’s career from spiraling into novelty shtick is the fact that this musician can write originals (including “Daydreaming”).
Married to college sweetheart and aspiring novelist Steven Kittinger, Yiu has a few more covers in the works. She’s currently toying with the idea of interpreting Daft Punk and Pharrel’s ubiquitous hit, “Get Lucky.” She also has a pair of Queen ditties in her sights – “Fat Bottomed Girls” and the British group’s masterpiece, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
And her flirtation with the Westside will not end with Witzend; she’s already booked to play holiday music at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Main Street, Dec. 22.
In the past couple of years, Yiu has gigged all over town, including Santa Monica’s UnUrban Coffee House and Venice’s Talking Stick on the Westside, and House of Blues, Genghis Cohen and Molly Mallone’s elsewhere. But Santa Monica, Yiu insists, is where her heart remains.
“I love the fact that it’s 20 degrees cooler,” she said “I love the beach, I love water. I personally think Westside people are nice. I lived in Hollywood for two or three years. It was busy; helicopters, people all the time. It was just tiring. I love this community.”
Yiu is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Witzend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. Admission is $10. Information, (310) 305-4792; witzendlive.com; liviyiu.com.