Since I last saw soul singer Leon Bridges perform, ten months ago at Berklee’s 200-person capacity venue—the Red Room at Cafe 939—the venue had gotten bigger. A lot bigger.
Last night, Bridges played to a sold-out 3,500-person crowd at The Wang Theater.
Bridges danced his way onto the stage, feet shuffling, fingers snapping, and joined his backing band—a saxophonist, two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a backup vocalist—that had started playing. As he did, audience members came to their feet, as if they had been anxiously awaiting to join their pastor in song.
Church was in session.
Much of his set remained unchanged from his Cafe 939 performance, but with only one album out, Coming Home, that wasn’t surprising. The band alternated waltz-time ballads and shuffling fifties swing, trading guitar and sax solos.
“Y’all want to know what I’m always dreaming of?” Bridges asked before the band broke into “Brown Skin Girl.”
At one point Bridges asked the crowd if we were going to come back to see him next time he was in town. There was a slight pause and then a cheer. Did he need to ask that? No. If the answer to that question had been anything but “yes,” he wouldn’t have sold out a 3,500-person theater.
For the most part, though, Bridges demonstrated a likeable humility, saying that he should be the one opening up for his warm-up act, Son Little, and that his backup vocalist, Brittni Jessie, should be the lead singer.
While Bridges should clearly be lead singer of his own band, his comment brought up a related point: Why doesn’t he have more vocalists on stage? What if Leon Bridges was joined by another female singer or two? What about a choir? Adding more voices to the stage would only enrich the power of his music and message. Maybe he will down the road.
Bridges’ rise has been sudden, but not unexpected. This country is in need of more soul musicians like Leon Bridges; thankfully, it seems like he’s just getting started.
After a set that lasted less than an hour, Bridges and crew came back for a three-song encore, ending with “River.” Bridges picked up a guitar for the final song, as the rest of the band except for Jessie walked off stage.
As he started strumming his guitar, I saw an older woman with white hair and a wool black-brimmed hat turn to her husband. “Close your eyes,” she said. “It feels like you’re somewhere else.”
Perhaps she was remembering herself at a dance in her high school gymnasium in the late fifties, or a smoky late-night club in New Orleans. Either way, it was hard to imagine that it was 2016.
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- Tight band
- Mostly music, not much talking
- Short set, short encore
- At times too self-promotional