First Avenue presents Tori Kelly.

Tori Kelly may be considered a relatively new name in pop music, but she has been actively pursuing singing opportunities for much of her life. Currently out on The Acoustic Sessions tour, Kelly is revisiting a variety of material from each phase of this journey all the way back to an early Star Search appearance at just 10 years old. The Palace Theater was a great space for the St. Paul performance that attracted a nice size audience. The stage was transformed into a living room complete with couches, lamps and some fantastic stage lighting that effectively created a fitting environment for 2 reminiscent hours of music and storytelling – no opening act required.

Kelly is plenty capable of performing solo, but having additional accompaniment by guitar wizard Mateus Asato added a great deal to the overall sound, chemistry and entertainment value. The clear focus of this show revolves around Kelly’s seemingly limitless vocal ability and the acoustic format was perfect for showing that off. The collection of songs she is offering up has been consistent from show to show and contains fan favorites, unreleased new songs, cover tunes and some deep tracks. This overall equation could pose some challenges with keeping an audience who may just want to hear songs they know engaged, which is probably why she only provides a snapshot into some songs and shortens other in medley form. Kelly definitely accomplishes her goal of creating a loose intimate living room vibe and fans bought into the concept, randomly singing along when inspired to do so as was the case early on during Nobody Love. This format also allowed Kelly plenty of time to connect with the audience between songs, sharing experiences and revealing the inspiration behind how many of these songs came to be.

The enduring I Was Made For Loving You gave Kelly a chance to play about in her extensive vocal range and was a stand out. Asato took an opportunity to shine with an attention grabbing extended solo during the unreleased new Two Places. You could feel the audience perk up for cover tunes Thinkin’ Bout You (Frank Ocean) and Suit & Tie (Justin Timberlake), both instrumental in her Youtube success. I liked her choice to do an extended medley covering a bunch of material off her first two EP’s. She then capped off “telling her story through song” with the title track off her first full length album Unbreakable Smile.

Asato ripped into a noteworthy solo piece giving Kelly a short break before beginning what felt like the show’s second act. For the first time, she strapped on an electric wide body Gretsch giving a more electrified sound to some more unreleased material. She paused and took a little extra time to explain the story behind Your Words, a pretty song based on a conversation with her grandfather prior to his passing. It led to some of her most dynamic singing that continued on for Sorry Would Go a Long Way. Finally, the upbeat nature of Should’ve Been Us got the audience on board for a strong finish with Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (an ode to her “Sing” movie character Meena) and current hit Change Your Mind.

Review and photos by Patrick Dunn