Leon Bridges

Leon Bridges


When he started in music, Leon Bridges admitted that he had not been listening to Sam Cooke ‘too hard’ and only began really digging into soul music, once his first single hit the cult blog ‘Gorilla Vs Bear’. It seems quite ironic then, when the widely-hyped OkayKaya covers Mr Cooke in her support set, after saying ‘Leon Bridges makes her feel like this.’

Although soul may not be a formative moment for Leon, his dress sense definitely was. It got him noticed by a White Denim guitarist, who later put him and a troupe of 8 musicians in a music studio, and that is obvious tonight. He grooves on stage in a full dinner suit, as if he has chosen his outfit in line with the ballroom gala-esque disco ball that spins slowly from the ceiling.

The opener ‘Better Man’ perfectly displays the skill of his seven man band and shows his desire to create a live performance, that does not purely rely on his recording prowess. ‘Brown Skinned Girl’ is even better and his clumsy dancing resembles a man who has simply stumbled on stage; Leon was bussing tables not long ago, so this dowdiness is more than forgivable.

The sheer amount of pork pie hats nod enthusiastically to ‘Flowers’. Leon, ironically, has decided not to wear a pork pie hat tonight, despite sporting it on nearly all of his promotional material – clearly a let down to some. Not me though, and ‘Flowers’ truly highlights the talent of one of tonight’s star performers, the backing singer. She clicks her fingers with ease and drifts through the song with an impressive amount of class. She matches Leon and the flower twisted around her microphone stand shows her elegance and sophistication.

‘Pull Away’ is a moment of classic soul, while ‘Smooth Sailing’ sounds like its title, smooth, classy and reminiscent of a boat riding over a crest of waves. It has a great saxophone solo and maximises tonight’s perfect live sound. This sound is perfected even more in Leon’s breakthrough single ‘Coming Home’; here, the backing singing adds a lot and the full show on stage is more on par with Leon’s Glastonbury show than an intimate show at the historic Deaf Institute.

‘Twistin and Groovin’ is tonight’s best song, he shows his true showmanship getting to the ground and literally imitating the track title. Things cool down with a song about his mother ‘Lisa Sawyer’; it is the story of a woman with an Indian mother and adds a  certain reality to the Missisippi backwater where Leon and his mother came from.
‘Shine’ sounds like many more of tonight’s song, but seemingly we are more than happy to return to this music and do not care a bit, whether one song sounds like the last. It is interesting to think why this music is making a comeback, was it Aloe Blacc’s ‘I need a Dollar?’ I doubt it, but if this is not true then surely this revival would have to be laid at Leon’s door alone, quite a feat.

Leon Bridges

Leon Bridges

A song from Leon that goes back even further than soul is ‘River.’ All of the band, other than the backing singer leave the stage for this one and Leon references ‘Jordan’, the dreamland of the slaves, and sings in a style not too different to the gospel that still continues to fill churches down South. This song precedes one of the strangest encores you’re likely to see.

I call it strange because all of the four songs are not off Leon’s debut album and go to show his wide-ranging talent. The first song ‘Here She Goes’ is his most soulful and catchy song of the evening, drawing the audience into a deep silence not normally observed when unknown songs are played. ‘Mississippi Kisses’ is surely an oxymoron, I don’t about you but I associate that state with racism far more than some sweet kisses and romance. However, this song is charming and manages to throw some of that horrific history off the state’s back, quite an achievement.

He ends the show by getting to his knees and truly embracing the crowd by clapping and dancing. It is Leon’s final display of fun, in what has been a truly unforgettable evening. Leon Bridges has already outgrown the Deaf Institute and those of us lucky enough to be here tonight, will probably never see the soul man in a venue like this ever again. In September he comes back to play the Albert Hall and although that venue may be able to accommodate his seven man band a bit easier, I feel blessed to have been here tonight and to witness a sight that won’t be granted to many. Soon his backdrop will be palatial but tonight he more than suits the intimacy and quaintness of the Deaf Institute, making a venue his own that simply no longer can contain the whole of his audience. We’re very thankful to be one of the lucky few tonight but more than happy to join him in a toast to his well-deserved success. Good work Leon.

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.