I had agreed, during an impulsive episode, to go to this gig about six months ago, only to be pleasantly reminded of it when the tickets arrived a week or so back. It is true to say that Leon Bridges is a big name by now. The rhythm and blues singer’s biggest hits, particularly Coming Home, manage to strike an appealing balance of early motown and modern pop whilst invariably showcasing his wonderful Texan twang. Therefore, despite knowing few of his songs well, I was excited.
The venue was sold out, yet the standing area did not feel as crowded as I had expected. The lights dimmed and there was considerable applause – on came the performer, sporting a brave red and gold jacket, his trademark beanie and salmon pink chinos. The first three songs were a mix of old and new – the first sounding as much like Tame Impala as it did in the first record. “That one was a little bit new for y’all I reckon,” Leon conceded. Genre-crossing was a feature throughout the set and that was probably its biggest downfall. Too often the audience was thrown between intense ballads and 50’s-style swing songs; this led to a certain awkwardness permeating the crowd. Should one get down and boogie or simply get the tissues out? This was an odd dilemma as the power and versatility of Bridges’ voice is capable of executing such an experiment – it is a shame that this mash-up didn’t quite translate to the gig situation.
Despite this, both Bridges’ voice and the musicians around him were technically faultless. The lighting was spectacular and the stage design was well done – a sort of wave of bluish-purple hung behind the band and seemed to glisten in time with the music. Following an oddly-placed cello solo two thirds into the set that shouldn’t have worked but did, there grew a welcome consistency and a more assured performance, the crowd now galvanised for some dancing. Cutting an elegant shadow onto the curtain behind, a saxophonist entered the scene and lifted the crowd even further. The set ended with a rendition of Bridges’ most notable song, River, with help from his superb bandmate Brittni Jessie. As I was about to leave, the band re-entered the stage and delivered some proper Texan swing which signalled a fitting end to an enjoyable hour and a half.
In spite of all of this, there remains a nagging sense that Bridges has yet to do what those of a similar vein (think Yellow Days and Michael Kiwanuka) have succeeded in – secure his own, unique sound. The songs on both the first and second albums can feel like two sides of a corporate coin, one being the tried and tested hark back to Sam Cooke and the other, the commercial pop of Bruno Mars. There is so much to like about Leon Bridges and there are many reasons to enjoy his music; despite the fun, Saturday’s gig served as a reminder of something missing in his repertoire, something that will hopefully arrive in time for his third release.