UTG FEATURE: Last Night Leon Bridges Changed My Life


For the better part of the last year I have had my eye on Dallas, Texas native Leon Bridges. His music is both a callback to the now long gone heyday of soul, with influences ranging from Etta James to Sam Cooke, as well as a testament to the power of great songwriting. He can make you fall in love just as easily as he can make you ponder your relationship with the unknown, and he does it all while supplying a steady stream of dancehall-ready music that is sure to get your feet moving.

On Sunday night, May 3, I was one of two-hundred people who made their way to downtown Boston in order to see Bridges perform a sold-out show at Berklee College of Music’s famous Cafe 939. It’s an intimate space with absolutely no bar or concessions whatsoever, but what it lacks in snacks it more than makes up for with beautiful lighting and superb sound.

The cold that has plagued New England only recently began to let up, so I had no problem walking three blocks from the only street parking I could find to the front of the venue. It was about an hour after doors when I finally got inside, as I wanted to grab a few drinks before the show, but I still managed to catch two songs from opener Jake Paleschic. His sound is the definition of Americana, with tales of love and life that feel pulled from the same soil that caked to the bottom of his shoes. It didn’t fit with the pop sensibilities of the set that would follow, but no one in attendance seemed to care.

There was only twenty minutes of downtime between Paleschic and the start of Bridges’ set, which began only 80 minutes after doors initially opened. A six-piece band took the stage first, complete with one female backup singer who then proceeded to introduce Bridges to the audience as if he were about to make an appearance on something like The Ed Sullivan Show. Bridges appeared moments later, dressed to the nines in a suit and tie combination straight out of your grandparents’ closet, and quickly got to work delivering what seemed to be every song from his forthcoming debut album.

It was around the time his set list reached “Coming Home,” which is the album’s title track and current single, that I recognized just what had been happening to my body and spirit during the opening minutes of Bridges’ set. Like everyone, I had been singing along and swaying to the four-on-the-floor sound that serves as the foundation for many of Leon’s best tracks, but I had also become so entranced with the moment I found myself in that nothing else mattered. I didn’t think about Twitter, or Facebook, or all the tasks I had neglected during the work day because I was fantasizing about being at the show all day long. For the entire 50 minutes Leon Bridges was on stage I was as engaged with his performance as anyone could possibly be. Time didn’t matter. The pain in my legs from standing didn’t matter. Nothing except music mattered for nearly an hour, and as someone pushing 28 years on this planet, I know all too well how rare moments like that can be.

Bridges himself seemed to also be lost in the moment. Though his stage presence was riddled with a clear level of nervousness that one would expect from any newcomer who suddenly becomes the darling of every music writer on the planet, but he pushed through his set and delivered studio quality vocals the entire time. Of the hundreds of shows I have attended in my life, only a handful have sounded as good, if not better, than the recorded material that first grabbed my interest. Bridges is now amongst those special few, and the more I think about it the higher up my list he climbs.

As for the songs themselves, the material that has yet to be shared with the public is similar to what has already been released, but it’s made unique with slight variations that serve to keep you on your toes. “Twistin’ And Groovin’,” for example, boasts a riff that feels pulled directly from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll; while the infectious “Brown Skin Girl” plays like the love theme from a musical that has yet to be written. Bridges and his band worked their way through each as if it were second nature, and all the while the crowd swayed back and forth. Some even danced, including myself and my date, but unfortunately the club was far too small for any real dancing to take place.

When the show finally came to a close, everyone except Leon and his backup singer left the stage. Bridges then grabbed an acoustic guitar, his first time wielding an instrument all night, and led the audience through a stirring rendition of “The River,” which has only recently started to gain traction at radio and beyond. It was probably the most recognized song of the night, and though it lacked the big sound that seemed to define the rest of the night, it made for a perfect closing number.

As the crowd began to disperse, I turned to my date to see how she felt about everything that had just transpired.

“Tonight was like a dream,” she said. “We may never get to see Smokey Robinson or The Supremes, but tonight we saw the next best thing. Tonight we saw the future, and for the first time in a long time it doesn’t seem as disposable or annoying as anything you hear on the radio today.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Feature written by James Shotwell. Photo courtesy of Rich Gastwirt

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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