5/3/15 – The Red Room @ Café 939

We’ve heard the Sam Cooke comparisons, and they are accurate: Leon Bridges sings original soul music, seeming to spring from the late fifties—songs about family, about love, about breaking apart, coming together; a young black man from the South whose gospel is smooth and whose blues is innate; fingers snapping; shoulders shaking. Is it possible to read anything about the 25-year-old soul singer from Fort Worth, Texas without the ghost of Sam Cooke floating down the page?

No. But that’s just fine.

At the sold-out show Thursday night in Berklee’s Café 939, Bridge’s six backing musicians—a saxophonist, two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer, all of whom wore matching black suits, as well as a backup singer—took their positions on the small stage and welcomed Bridges to his microphone.

Bridges walked out wearing a tight, brown plaid suit—the type of suit that over the decades has gone in and out of fashion too many times to count. Snapping his fingers to the drum groove, Bridges held his arms up like a conductor. He looked like a car dealership air-dancer tube man, swaying in the wind. You know what I’m talking about. You do.

After a few uptempo songs rooted in swing and accented by vocal harmonies and sultry sax solos, Bridges slowed it down.

“The next tune is about my mother,” he said. “Her name is Lisa Sawyer. She’s a beautiful lady. She keeps telling me I need to call her.”

Whether Bridges is singing about family or a lover, his lyrics are firmly planted in another generation. For 2015, they are tame, and this is part of the attraction (subtlety still exists?). In “Mississippi Kisses,” Bridges sings, “I’ll never forget you, my baby / Oh, darling / Sweet honey.”

Though Bridges’ songs are nothing but genuine, you can tell he is still getting comfortable on stage. With not more than a few lines introducing each song, as well as a mostly unchanging, sincere facial expression, Bridges looked in control, but nervous.


For the final song, all but Bridges and his backup singer left the stage, but before they did, one of the guitarists gave Bridges his guitar and adjusted the guitar strap on Bridges’ back. It was an awkward exchange and a few crowd members laughed nervously. Bridges flashed a smile.

After the final note Bridges and his backup singer walked off stage. Despite five minutes of cheering, which evolved into a slow clap, he never returned for an encore. Was it because he didn’t have enough prepared material? Was he too uncomfortable to return to the small stage and interact with the fans once more? We’ll never know.

One thing we know for sure: what you can’t have you want more than anything.

Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home will be released on June 23rd followed by a performance at this summer’s Newport Folk Festival on Friday, July 24th.

Soul Conductor: Leon Bridges
  • Soul music we can all relate to
  • Few can pull off a brown, plaid suit
  • Refreshingly tame lyrics
  • Only one backup singer
  • No encore
9Soul Conductor

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