It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago, Leon Bridges was bussing tables at a restaurant in Fort Worth, TX and now he’s selling out 3,500 seat venues like The Wang Theater in Boston, MA.
The audience was already buzzing with excitement on Saturday when Bridges and his band took the stage and began jamming the opening bars to “Smooth Sailin,” an up-funk soul ditty, but became frenzied once Bridges shimmied his way over to the mic and belted out his chart-topping hit.
The Wang – sophisticated, classic and charming like Bridges – seemed an obvious choice for a venue. Leon Bridges is a show man – a trained choreographer who wears vintage suits to his performances and sings with a voice like Sam Cooke and a retro-soul sound that hasn’t been heard in any major artists since the late 1950’s. It felt as if the audience was watching a live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show that night.
However, Bridges was playing for a crowd in 2016 and The Wang is an old theater full of seats; the audience wanted to boogie down. That ended up proving to be a small problem for devotees, who rushed the aisles during the doo wop number “Better Man” in order to swing dance and did so only to never return to their seats.
Bridges played a respectable 75-minute set and is touring in support of his hit debut album Coming Home. He released a deluxe version earlier this year which includes five additional songs, and he performed a new song, “Hold On,” which he wrote while on tour. The song was well received by fans and had a distinct twangy sound and uplifting feel to it.
What makes Bridges so great is his impressive versatility within his genre – he can play doo wop, soul, funk, rhythm and blues and play them all well. Perhaps what is most satisfying though, is when Bridges plays his rich soul gospel songs. At one point, after winding everyone down from a fervor after playing his adoring tribute, “Brown Skinned Girls,” he asked the crowd if “he could take them to church for a minute?” and crooned out the modern day hymn “Shine,” pleading that “the lord don’t remember my sins, my sins from my youth.”
True to his theatrical style, Bridges and back-up singer Brittni Jessie brought the crowd to their knees with the fiercely emotional gospel song “River” during the four-song encore. Jessie, whose voice is lucid and celestial, is at times stronger than Bridges and he will be the first to admit it as he did that evening.