Columbia, Missouri, does not deserve Leon Bridges. Nobody deserves Leon Bridges.
Bridges headlined Saturday’s Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival lineup, capping off the day with ‘60s-style soul and swing songs from his 2015 album, Coming Home, as well as tracks released in 2016 in the deluxe version of the album.
The 26-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, native seems almost like a reincarnation of a soul artist from the ‘50s or ‘60s, from his clothes to his voice to his dance moves. His whole style is reminiscent of that time, and his band dresses the part, too. Most of the six-piece band wore sport coats, button-downs and hats.
Bridges wore a blue and white pin-striped jumpsuit with the sleeves rolled to mid-forearm, and polka-dot socks with loafers. It was an odd combination, but Bridges made it look natural, even vintage.
The band had the crowd dancing before Bridges even came on stage, playing a swing rhythm that transitioned into the opening song, “Smooth Sailin’,” an upbeat tune. It was clear from the drum-and-bass dance break added to the middle that the band would not be simply sticking to the studio versions of its songs.
They even played what seemed to be an entirely improvised song, with Bridges freestyling and playing with the phrase “got the juice,” encouraging the crowd to dance. The song flowed so smoothly that it seemed almost written and practiced, though it was clear from Bridges’ freestyling and the band’s groove that it was an improvised jam.
He played most of his popular songs in the middle section of the show, including “Better Man,” “Brown Skin Girl” and “Lisa Sawyer,” keeping the energy high and inviting the crowd to dance along.
They covered “A Whole Lotta Woman” by Sam Cooke, who Bridges has been compared to by outlets like Rolling Stone and Billboard. Immediately after “A Whole Lotta Woman,” the band played a rendition of “Pony,” released by Ginuwine in 1996, while the crowd sang along.
Before the opening chords of “Coming Home,” the title track of his only album, Bridges said, “I heard some of y’all are getting married to this song.” It’s a sweet ballad featuring Bridges’ backup singer Brittni Jessie, the only female band member. Her voice is instrumental to Bridges’ sound, both in recordings and in concert, and she complimented him beautifully on the Roots N Blues stage.
The band left the stage after “Coming Home,” an unconvincing “end” to the show, since they did not play one of their signature tracks, “River.” A crew member even set up another guitar on stage after the band had cleared out. The crowd remained in good spirits though and dutifully cheered for an encore until Bridges, Jessie and a pianist reemerged.
The trio went straight into “River,” a stripped-down, soft gospel song. It’s very minimal in the recorded version, but live, it sounded even more sparse and lost some of the catchiness of the studio track. It was beautiful, but the crowd seemed to be relieved when Bridges picked the energy back up for the encore’s final two songs.
The show ended, legitimately this time, with an extended version of “Mississippi Kisses,” in which the guitarists and saxophonist played solos.
Bridge’s entire act appeals to multiple generations. His 1960s soul tracks sound natural on a record player, and older people enjoy his fresh take on the music of their childhoods. Younger fans enjoy his high-energy, vintage feel. This multi-generational appeal was visible in the Roots N Blues crowd, which included people of all ages, from children to seniors.
I saw Leon Bridges in October 2015 at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, just four months after the release of his album. There, he performed the album almost exactly like the recorded version, and rarely strayed from the mic stand. Since then, Bridges has only released a few new songs but has shaped his music for live performances, adding in solos, freestyles and callouts to the crowd that make the live experience different and interactive.
Unfortunately, Bridges has not announced when his next album will be released. Until then, I’ll continue listening to “Coming Home” regularly and encouraging everyone from my younger siblings to my grandparents to listen to it too.
Edited by Claire Colby | email@example.com