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Monday, March 21, 2016

Live Review: Leon Bridges Brought the Past to Life at the Fox Theater

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge Leon Bridges and his squad. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Leon Bridges and his squad.

Last year, 26-year-old Leon Bridges took the music world by storm with the release of his debut studio album Coming Home. The Grammy-nominated album, released in June on Columbia Records, charted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and introduced the world to Bridges' inventive reworkings of late '50s and early '60s soul, R&B, and pop ditties. 

Last November, I had the chance to see the Fort Worth, Texas native perform at The Wiltern in Hollywood, and I was curious to see how (and if) his show had changed four months later. Bridges is a phenomenal live performer and one of the things I liked the most about his show in L.A. was that the songs were played exactly as they were recorded on the album. Innovation is great, but sometimes the original is so good that it shouldn't be fucked with. Bridges' voice is just as buttery and smooth as it sounds in his recordings and, as expected, he was dressed to the nines in a vintage suit and tie ensemble. 

The only qualm I had with the show was Bridges' interim banter with the audience. It just didn't work. His jokes fell flat. His remarks were awkward. Though he's phenomenal as a singer, it was clear that he was struggling with the small talk. Every time he grabbed the mic to chat with the crowd, it just felt awkward — and not awkward in the "I don't have a script or know what to say" kind of way, but awkward in the "I'm just not good at talking to people and I'm not clever enough to think of something cute or funny to say" kind of way. While this was surprising, I wasn't willing to let it influence my opinions on the artist. After all, he's a singer, not a politician. Speeches aren't supposed to be his forte. 

click to enlarge Sing it, boy! - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Sing it, boy!
On Thursday night, the Fox Theater was packed with fans who had come out to see Bridges and his opener, Son Little. Like myself, there were a number of gals and guys dressed in '50s and '60s inspired vintage attire, which was certainly a deviation from the crowd I had seen in Los Angeles. (Guess Angelenos are too cool for themed wardrobes.) 

The band arrived onstage before Bridges. For a solid few minutes, they went through the opening chords of "Smooth Sailin'" with each musician getting a shot at a solo.

When Bridges sauntered out dancing, wearing a caramel brown, slim-fitting suit with an orange pocket scarf, the crowd went wild. A guy behind me yelled, "Here we go!" twice in a deep, rumbling voice and joints were passed around. 

As Bridges cycled through the tracks on his record, mixing in a few new songs, too, he spent little time making small talk with the audience. As predicted, he was gawky and uncomfortable, saying things like, "I'm not going to talk because if I talk, then it's going to get all awkward." To waste time, he repeated lines like, "Are you guys, excited? I want you to have a fun, good time tonight," and asked the audience to "give it up" for the band on multiple occasions. Someone in the audience seemed to agree with me that he was dawdling and hollered, "Let's go!" after he'd uttered a few sentences. 
click to enlarge What I would do to be Leon Bridges' tambourine girl. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • What I would do to be Leon Bridges' tambourine girl.

The renditions of the song were spotless. It was clear that the band — which, mind you, was a rag-tag assortment of random people of all ages and styles (shoutout to the super tall, skinny guitarist with the jet black hair and all-black outfit who looked like the Thin Man from Charlie's Angels and the tambourine girl in the beatnik black turtleneck sweater) — had practiced a ton before the tour. Bridges' vocals were at just the right volume to float above the instrumentals and at times, the event felt like being at a high school prom from the 1950's. If only the show had mandated that people dress in mid-century attire to keep the allusion up. Now that would have been cool. 

It was clear that the crowd was loving the entire performance. A gaggle of "Woo! We love you!" girls called out to Bridges frequently and another person in the crowd yelled lines like, "So slick!" 

click to enlarge The Thin Man and Huckleberry Finn were also at the show. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • The Thin Man and Huckleberry Finn were also at the show.
Through Bridges' scanty banter, we learned that he "used to write songs on [his] porch," and that he thinks it's "crazy" that he's come so far. Which is to say, maybe Bridges' stage talk is getting better with each performance. I mean, his singing is already top-notch, so maybe making small talk is next on his to-do list. 

Critic's Notebook:

- The encore must die. It's a tired and predictable charade: we all know the artist/band will come out for at least one more song. Just chill out, audience. No need to scream or applaud or stomp, as the crowd did for Bridges. 

- The crowd wailed as one, big collective baby when Bridges played the last song, "River." 

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Jessie Schiewe


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