REVIEW: Tori Kelly at O2 Ritz, Manchester

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AMERICAN singer-songwriter Tori Kelly played the penultimate show of her UK tour at Manchester’s sell-out O2 Ritz. Quays News entertainment reporter Nathan Salt went down to take in her elegant vocal…

Kelly is far from an unknown quantity in the music industry after her first record deal was signed 11 years ago – she was just 12-years-old.

The Californian acoustic singer recently found herself as a Grammy nominee and was narrowly pipped at the post by fellow American Meghan Trainor for Best New Artist.

That decision looks even more dubious than it did all those weeks ago after a Manchester gig that was as elegant and delicate as it was captivating and incredible.

But as all top artists do, her frighteningly loyal fans were treated to support act Samm Henshaw – the Londoner who opened up for James Bay at O2 Apollo five months ago here in Manchester.

Henshaw, complete with a full band (new to this tour), assumed position to give Kelly’s fans a taste of his debut EP ‘The Sound Experiment’ which was released back in September 2015.

His six-song set only strengthened the analysis that Henshaw, despite being just 22, is ready to headline his own shows; opening up for worldwide superstars such as Kelly and Bay will have been invaluable opportunities.

Set highlights included ‘Redemption’ (video below), ‘Only Wanna Be With You’ and his newest track ‘Our Love’ which is a song he wrote about his parents and how his grandparents didn’t want them to be together.

Many in the crowd were muttering how they had never heard of Henshaw prior to arriving at the venue; six songs later and they were downloading his EP.

He made an impression. A good one. A very, very good one.

Other tracks in his set included ‘Everything’ and ‘Better’ with the latter allowing him to demonstrate his vocal range with a piercing falsetto emanating itself throughout the venue.

Every now and then an artist comes along and it dawns on you that this is exactly what the industry has been missing.

With an innate ability to deliver immense hooks and melodies, Henshaw’s performance could easily have been one from a future BRITs Critics’ Choice winner…

As good as Henshaw was, he was not the reason that fans had been waiting patiently outside in the queue eight hours before doors opened.

And if you find that impressive, there was one female fan who was in the middle of hitch-hiking her way across Europe in order to make every single Kelly show on the continent!

What was most striking about this show above many others was the noise levels generated inside the tightly packed venue – it was arguably one of the loudest atmospheres that Quays News has ever witnessed.

Her 16-strong setlist was dominated with songs from her debut album ‘Unbreakable Smile’ which peaked at number two on the US Billboard charts.

Every song was sang back to the vocalist as she delicately blended her soothing vocal with her guitar – the similarities to fellow Grammy nominated artist Bay became clearer and clearer as the gig gathered pace.

Tracks such as ‘Expensive’ and ‘Nobody Love’ altered the vibe to a much more funk and dance sound that had those standing on the dancefloor reaching out for a touch of the artist as she interacted closely with the crowd.

The album is dominated by love; it’s a theme that many artists turn to for a debut album yet Kelly offers a vocal so sublime it avoids the ‘just another album about love’ label.

The backing beats and heavy band seemed, at times, a waste given the strength of Kelly’s vocal. It was difficult to comprehend why any of her entourage felt bellowing sound over her vocal would prove a shrewd move.

That is why ‘Beautiful Things’ was one of the set’s overwhelming highlights as the Californian picked up her guitar and channelled the sound that kickstarted her career all those years ago when she took to YouTube to get her music out to the rest of the world.

Ritz was playing host to a gig where the passion from the artist and their fanbase was quite literally palpable.

Kelly demonstrated an expression of gratitude as rapturous cheers and shouting greeted songs such as ‘City Dove’, ‘All In My Head’, ‘Falling Slow’ and ‘Confetti’ – the latter was a record written about fans as the American realised she needed to seize every moment and not let the present day pass her by.

She claims in ‘Expensive’ that ‘money don’t buy love’ but for the Manchester sell-out crowd, the love, lust and adoration proved worthy of every penny.

Surrounded by die-hard Kelly fans can be intimidating but that, frankly, wasn’t even a necessity upon entrance.

For anyone who could appreciate the craft of a great musician would have been blown away by Kelly – an artist who has honed her craft over the years to a point right now where she has ‘it’; that star quality that propels an artist into the elite bracket of performers.

The volume generated inside the Oxford Road venue last night ensures this gig is one that Kelly will never (ever) forget.

By Nathan Salt
@NathSalt1

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Nathan is the former Quays News web editor. He is a versatile member of the team, now turning his hand to entertainment, sport, features and news.

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