Leon Bridges is the Chet Baker of soul. Just because he’s highly digestible for white folks, it doesn’t mean he’s not fucking amazing.
Sunday night’s crowd at Stubb’s was packed wall-to-wall with a plentitude of Panama hats (which are a pleasure to stand behind as a small human only one inch away from getting disabled parking in the U.K) and sorority-girl-on-the-town outfits, their Kendra Scott jewelry flashing morse code to each other: R-a-n-c-h W-a-t-e-r l-i-m-e.
The lights dim at 8:39pm, and the man himself quietly climbs the stage, a smile on his face and a slight slump in his shoulders, to thunderous applause. After the band get their bearings, Bridges bursts into action with a lively rendition of “Shy,” twirling the microphone and dancing across the platform in a blur of black bell-bottoms and embossed leather.
The Grammy-winning neo soul-phyte maintains his effortless energy for most of the show, busting James Brown moves with D’Angelo’s silky smooth delivery. Bridges addresses the crowd and introduces his latest album, Gold-Diggers Sound, as the lights turned yellow.
“For this album, I pretty much set up shop in Hollywood with some of my favorite musicians,” he announces.
Throughout the show, stage lighting highlights the mood and album of each song: yellow for Gold-Diggers Sound, orange, red, and blue for his old stuff.
Each song flows into each other, particularly on his latest smooth R&B effort and, by the time he got to “Why Don’t You Touch Me,” the crowd had settled into a comfortable groove. This is the kind of concert you sway a little bit to, but Bridges does most of the dancing. At times, it ran together so smoothly it felt like all the songs were a massive interlude, yet we never dipped into tedium thanks to Bridges’ onstage charisma and the band’s smiling energy. Gold-Diggers Sound, named after the hotel he wrote it in, is a minimalist work anyways, and the band ratchets each track to a higher energy than the album’s original quiet strength.
We stay in yellow until the sixth track, “Details,” the band delivering drawn-out melodic intros before jamming out to each song. As Bridges croons “How you pause when you talk when you trying not to laugh,” and I juggle a cigarette and a drink while taking notes, I notice a lady with a bleached afro and a yellow top sitting up the hill in the corner with her boyfriend. She had her eyes closed and a slight smile on her lips as she swayed her head almost imperceptibly. Bridges sails through “Motorbike,” and we fade into the blues, literally.
A slow cello intro brings us through the haunted loneliness of “Blue Mesas,” one of my favorite tracks off Gold-Diggers Sound. He picks up the energy briefly, “I think Austin, TX wants to hear something funky tonight!,” but slides back into balladry with “Beyond,” the song that launched a thousand wedding dances. The air smells of cedar wood smoke rather than weed, and a Gen X man with salt-and-pepper sideburns remarks to his Botoxed wife, “That Leon Bridges, he’s a sweetheart.”
Bridges slides through his older repertoire, never losing his cool and never letting us see him sweat. Now that he’s taken us through the new album, it’s time for the hit parade. A bass-heavy version of “Bad Bad News” closes out the formal concert, but he barely steps away from the microphone before returning for an obligatory encore. He picks up a six-string and steps on stage to a vibrant country crowd pleaser – harmonica, two-step beat and all – reminding us how country and blues twist together to form the DNA of soul. Cowboy hats start to bop.
He slowly strums his guitar as the music winds down to 2020’s “Texas Sun,” off the eponymously titled Khruangbin collab. The golden light turns into fog as he segues dramatically into his seminal classic, “River.” It’s just him and his vocalist, a gorgeous woman with a close fade and a reaching voice. As his last notes linger and the crowd begins to shuffle out the door, the lady in the corner still has her eyes closed, a smile on her face.
This content was originally published here.