When he first came on the scene in 2015, Leon Bridges was being touted as the next soul giant: a modern Sam Cooke, with a little Aretha or Marvin thrown in – even down to his unassuming, often neutral-colored, retro-inspired, clothing choices, and certainly by the 60s soul, stripped-down Memphis grooves ala stax/volt/hi records, of his 2016 Grammy-nominated, debut album Coming Home.
But 2019 Leon Bridges is a very different man.
Let’s be up front about it: the show was incredible – an absolutely polished, acoustically lush, very well put-together performance from a young man who’s traveled a looooong distance from green innocence to savvy touring star in a very short time.
The stage was set like a private lounge show, that YOU’VE been somehow lucky enough to be invited to, his larger-than-life blue neon initials ‘LB’ mounted on the wall above the 7-piece band; the warmth of deep reds and purples lighting the room, filling the air. There we were, all waiting: the audience filled in, the band all tuned-up, and finally, a beat. The drums kicked us out of our chatter, the lights hit, the music rolled, the back-up singers started, dancing to the rhythm, getting us going, shaking a tail feather or two, breaking out a tambourine and finger snapping, hand clapping to the beat, … and then… and then… the man appeared. Out walks Leon Bridges and cheers erupt. This audience is ready, on the verge of jumping to their feet, applauding, hollering, just waiting to be invited to dance. With a charming smile adorning his face, you can see that he knows EXACTLY what we’re about to get. A total showman like the best of crooners before him, he steps up to the glittering, twinkly-light-wrapped microphone stand that is center-stage, gives a wave here, gives a wave there, does a quick little dance step in time and boom – hits his mark and lets out the first note. Cheers fly up again and the sold-out Orpheum theater is positively GIDDY with delight. And off we go.
Out of the gate, he is commanding.
He’s possessed of a one-man Earth, Wind, and Fire-style vibe – like Phil Bailey mixed with a 70s Al Green and the swag of Otis Redding.
Attired in black Carhart-style jeans, a black satin racing jacket with two patches, and black Beatle boots, he’s a smooth swinging anachronism, that somehow fits this neo-soul-styled-R&B band just perfectly.
They ARE a soul band – Leon Bridges IS a soul singer at heart – but he has been updated. Like I said earlier, the Leon of his debut has been transformed, and his sophomore effort “Good Thing,” the bulk of his material on this run, sees the man all grown up. A little shiny, a little suave. If debut album Leon was a first date, second album Leon is a veritable Valentino, by virtue of time on the road and label dealings no doubt. He’s calm, cool, & collected; sexy, smooth, and living his best life.
Plus, he’s INTO it. He really gets you dancing. Moving. He engages the crowd – asking “are you feeling SEXY?” “Yeeeeeaaaaah!” they yell back, feeling good. And Memphis can DANCE!
The entire audience was on their feet by the second song, singing along “She might just be my everything,” the mantra from “Beyond’ off his second album, clearly a crowd favorite.
On stage, he is a man who loves his music, loves what he’s doing, and would sing with as much pleasure be it for thousands or just one person
The band fuses quite heavy, progressive funk beats and pop elements of 60s R&B, while at the same time maintaining a Bruno Mars-eque air of the non-stop party. Very little breath between songs, they seem to slide one into the other. There will be no breaks for sitting. You are here to dance.
The two back-up singers add so much to Bridges’ wall of sound. Actually, everyone in the band is mic’d – they all sing, but the lithe, limber, and lovely Brittni Jessie is of particular note. She gets to showcase her velvety vocals several times throughout the show and is featured front and center during the encore.
There’s a psychedelic aspect to some of the newer, longer jams. They are entrancing and hypnotic, and just as you might be thinking of sitting down or posting on IG, then suddenly the jam breaks, a funky dance beat cuts in and invites you to get out of your seat once again and shake it. I’m not gonna lie, shake it I did.
Oh, and let’s not forget the pop ‘n lock that Bridges artfully teases throughout his self-tooled choreography. It was a nice touch, an ode to the still youthful humor of a now tenured entertainer; and like most of the genre-bending material he’s touring, that’s a “Good Thing.”