On March 8, Oakland’s Fox Theater hosted singer-songwriter Tori Kelly by transforming the stage into a warmly lit living room — complete with a sofa and floor lamps. Kelly, who is currently on “The Acoustic Sessions” tour, extended a warm and intimate invitation to the audience, making them feel more comfortable and at home.
“I wanted you guys to feel like you are all in my living room together,” Kelly explained as the staggered light bulbs flickered gently amid the colorful fog. Like the name of the tour suggests, the concert was entirely acoustic, emphasizing Kelly’s emotional vocals and steady guitar chords.
Kicking off the concert with an unreleased song, Kelly stopped frequently to explain the origins and thought processes behind each song. Her unrestrained interactions with the audience brought out the humility and grounded aspects of her personality, a gesture that made her fans croon in adoration.
Due to her prolific career, Kelly was able to fill her set list with selections from every part of her musical spectrum. New and old, released and unreleased, song covers and gospel tracks all made an appearance during the two-hour show. Kelly performed popular hits such as her collaboration track with Ed Sheeran, “I Was Made For Loving You,” as well as the energetic “Should’ve Been Us.” She did not forget to include soft throwback songs like “Paper Hearts.” During the song “Psalm 42” from her gospel album Hiding Place, Kelly retreated back to the couch, like she was subduing herself and her fame to focus on God.
Despite this wide range, however, the show remained curiously static. Each song sounded relatively the same and Kelly’s power vocals barely made up for the lack of dynamism and variation in her lineup. Although Kelly does have a distinctive style of music, the similarity in each of the songs performed resulted in a recognizable but otherwise hollow sound.
Another aspect of Kelly’s music that was also quite hollow was her laid-back lyrics. Kelly’s lyrics find comfort in simplicity and are generally easy to follow. Of course, these characteristics do not always indicate that the lyrics are bad. But in Kelly’s case, the danger in the modesty of her songwriting is that it could be translated into laziness.
For instance, in her song “Actress,” a recurring line is: “It’s easier to be an actress.” Despite the multiple repetitions of this line, there is no explanation for what she is comparing the job to. It’s easier to be an actress as opposed to what exactly? At times like these, her songs read like a stream of consciousness, rambling on as if there was little to no development in the lines.
Additionally, a recurring characteristic in Kelly’s repertoire for the night was rhyming lines. The rhymes in her music made the tracks easy for the audience to sing along. The downside of that rhyme, however, was that it limited the creativity of word choice and the development of complex lines. On occasion, the rhyming reduced songs to the quality of a jingle or slogan, giving rise to a sense of immature childishness. Perhaps this is what made Kelly the perfect artist to sing Nationwide’s catchy jingle.
Setting the more technical issues aside, Kelly’s performance in its entirety was full of soul and heart. Her modesty was extremely respectable and her consistent conversations with the audience revealed her down-to-earth nature. And though disappointing at times, the simplicity of her songs ultimately reflected her purity and groundedness as an artist.
Although she did treat her fans by showcasing her amazing vocals through freakishly high falsettos and ad libs, the intent to flaunt and boast remained undetected. Kelly deals with the topics of youth, loving relationships, the experience of elders and faith in God. These topics are especially relatable to all people and thus, Kelly has managed to reach and cater to many throughout her career — a truly reputable feat.