Last updated on May 24th, 2023 at 01:00 pm
If there was one overarching takeaway from Ruston Kelly’s Sunday night show at First Avenue, it was that he knows how to connect with his audience. Through strong performances of his vulnerable, often cathartic songs, Kelly had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole set. Though he’s always put on a good show, Sunday’s mainroom debut felt like a culmination of all the singer-songwriter’s prior accomplishments.
Though Kelly is touring in some of his biggest venues to date behind his newest album, The Weakness, he didn’t forget his proverbial roots and delivered songs from his entire career. After the relatively up-tempo opener “St. Jupiter,” Kelly and his band played a great version of Dying Star standout “Cover My Tracks.”
The early material played well for the audience, who sang along early and often. Shape and Destroy was also represented, with especially strong takes on “Rubber” and “Changes” serving as highlights in the second half of the 90-minute set.
Alongside the back catalog, songs from The Weakness were given plenty of opportunities to shine and held up superbly. At times the record is a sonic departure from the more Americana sound of his previous works, but the songs felt right at home in the set because they are like many of Kelly’s best songs: evocative and liberating.
Kelly has used the term “Dirt Emo” to describe his music in the past. The newest works indeed retain the emotional aspects, openly discussing difficult subjects such as divorce and addiction. Kelly’s performance in tackling these themes felt genuine and true to himself.
Combined with an inspired performance by his top-shelf band, this led to many powerful moments for the audience and performer alike. With both quiet, introspective numbers (“Poison”) and anthemic rockers, there was something for every Kelly fan, and the emotional payoff of each song was immense.
As a fitting encore, Kelly played an incredibly haunting cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” While it was a heavy choice, it was beautiful, and the audience received it accordingly. You could sense the deep connection in the room, ensuring that the final touches of Kelly’s mainroom debut left quite an impression.