Tori Kelly Brings her Gospel to San Francisco

in SF Concert Reviews by

Tori Kelly, the bubbly blonde pop singer with the perfect dimples who first gained national recognition after posting videos on YouTube at the age of 14, has come a long way. A very long way. At the ripe young age of 16, Kelly auditioned for American Idol only to be eliminated from the show early on because Simon Cowell called her voice “almost annoying.” Fast forward to 2018 and with a little perseverance and whole lotta blood sweat and tears she’s managed to turn that voice into an element of adoration, which has earned her a prestigious Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist and a legion of fans all around the world. Take that Mr. Cowell!

Last night at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, she whisked onto the stage with the effortless grace of a seasoned performer twice her age and proudly stood before a sold-out audience and showed the world that the little girl from the Youtube videos is now grown up and has made her dreams a reality. Well, maybe not all on her own. Tori Kelly as she told the audience is a self-professed “Church Girl,” so the man above may have had something to do with it. Whatever the case, she’s here now, and with the help of Scooter Braun who became her manager after seeing her videos on the Internet, Kelly’s already managed to release two albums and most recently a Gospel LP that she wrote alongside Kirk Franklin, or “Papa Kirk” as she likes to refer to him. “I love you, Papa Kirk,” she exclaimed early on in the performance.

The theme of the evening was gospel. Kelly, who came out wearing a faded blue denim jacket, glimmering silver and gold dress, and hot leather strapped black ankle boots, looked stunning as she sang a series of songs from her latest Hiding Place, an album that served as a celebration for her love of the lord. She performed both with a full band (complete with an impressive group of backup singers) but also solo with only an acoustic guitar strapped around her neck. At times reminiscent of Jewel the stripped-down production worked well for Kelly, but it wasn’t until she pulled out her biggest hits to date “Nobody Love” and “It Should Have Been Us” that the place erupted in cheer.

At times a pop performance, at others an intimate gathering of friends, Kelly’s intimate sharing of her personal life could have made this a perfect candidate for a Storytellers episode on MTV. It was a much-welcomed offering for her many fans that got an opportunity to witness a much more vulnerable side of Kelly. They returned the love and while this was officially promoted as a music concert, at times it felt more like a sermon. In the end, it was a magical and unforgettable night, one that must’ve stayed with fans long after the curtain fall.

Photos by Louis Raphael

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Having released albums under Digital Nations, a label founded by Steve Vai, music critic Louis Raphael has remained deeply connected to the pulse of the San Francisco music scene. Following his tenure as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he embarked on creating Music in SF® to authentically highlight the vibrant offerings of the city's music scene.

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