Concert Reviews

Tori Kelly Was One Part Gospel, One Part Pop, All Parts Fantastic

Kirk Franklin surprised the crowd Sunday night.
Kirk Franklin surprised the crowd Sunday night. Isabel Arcellana
Whether you know her powerful voice and curly blonde hair from pop hits like “Should’ve Been Us” and “Dear No One” or her soulful duet with Ed Sheeran “I Was Made For Loving You,” or maybe as the voice of the shy elephant in the animated film Sing, Tori Kelly can do just that: sing. Like hell.

This fall, Kelly released the eight-track album Hiding Place, written in DFW with the help of 12-time Grammy Award-winning Kirk Franklin. To her audience’s delight or dismay, it was a gospel album. She mashes up hymns and psalms and sings words like “Lord,” “Hallelujah,” the whole Jesus-y nine yards. What started as an idea to do one gospel song turned into something much bigger. Her newest album is purely and unapologetically Christian.

“Before we go further into the show, I gotta say, if you don’t know already, you’ll find out very quickly that I’m a Jesus lover,” Kelly told the audience Sunday night. “I’m going to sing songs about God and his love for us, but I also want to make it clear that I know we all come from different backgrounds. I know some of us may have different beliefs and this and that, but I want this to be a safe space. A place full of love and acceptance.”

Thunderous applause and cheers from the Majestic Theatre followed.

Kelly did a great job of being heartfelt while performing these Christian songs but also catering to her fans who were there before she turned gospel. She more or less flip-flopped between her new album and her older pop songs, impressing the crowd with Tori Kelly-like angelic vocal runs that had the most unreligious person saying “Hallelujah.”

Any fan of Kelly can attest to her incredible vocals, and somehow she sounds even better live. Though the songwriting for the gospel album is for the most part just OK and sometimes on the edge of cliché Christian music, Kelly’s voice carried each song so well that it hardly mattered.

During a break in the music when Kelly was putting on her guitar, someone shouted a song request from the crowd. The fact that this song wasn’t even out yet was a testament to the devotion of her fans. Kelly paused, saying, “Let’s see if I know it.” She tested out a couple chords as if to try to remember the song she wrote, then said, “That’s how you know it’s a new song, I don’t even know it yet.” Then she treated the Dallas fans with a new song called “Coffee.”

“That’s how you know it’s a new song, I don’t even know it yet.” – Tori Kelly

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Kelly’s background singers were almost as good as she was. The three backup singers did the classic choreographed hand gestures and oohs and ahhs you might expect from a gospel choir, but they went above and beyond with their incredible vocals throughout the night.

But the biggest surprise was the encore.

Throughout the night, Kelly thanked the man who had helped her write some of the album.

“There is somebody I thank every single show; I love this person so much and I wouldn’t be able to put this all together without the help of the legend Kirk Franklin,” Kelly said.

Then, halfway through “Never Alone,” Franklin, a gospel king, stepped out on the stage. The crowd lost their minds.

“Texas! I’m from Dallas as well, and I have to let you know something about this girl. This is the real deal,” he said, pointing to Kelly. “I have to let y'all know that she loves her fans. And she knew that she'd maybe get some criticism for doing this album, but she believed that the world needed the kind of love that the world needs right now. She was willing to risk it all to let the world know.”

The two then became the choir directors of our dreams, leading the crowd into singing different parts of the chorus. The band and singers laid down their instruments and mics and everyone onstage danced out the elongated “Never Alone” a capella, letting the audience sing the last lines over and over again until the performers disappeared backstage.

The whole night was full of exactly what Kelly brings to the table: powerful vocals and meaningful messages. No matter the audience’s beliefs, her talent and message had people believing in love.

Even as the crowd filed out of the Majestic Theatre, the singing continued as people clapped and sang the words of Franklin and Kelly: “Oh, you’re never alone, never alone…”
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Isabel Arcellana has been writing for the Observer since spring 2018 and has been creating fake newspapers for her mom since she was 8. She graduated from SMU with a double major in journalism and fashion media. Her five guitars are named after High School Musical characters.