I’ve had the privilege of going coast to coast this February to see Leon Bridges’ first solo show in New York City at the Mercury Lounge followed by his first Los Angeles show last Tuesday night at Hotel Café. I say privilege because that is the most honest way I could verbalize what it feels like to bear witness to a live performance of his. Listening live all I could think was, “I feel like this is going to be important later on.”
What started six months ago for me as a homegrown fascination caused by my brother turning me onto two tracks from “an unrepped kid out of Fort Worth, Texas” has rapidly evolved into an almost unanimous love affair between the hippest music blogs on the Internet and their latest darling. At this pace, he’s on track to be the music industry’s latest darling by summer and walk away with the Grammy for Best New Artist by this time next year.
- Considering that he still has yet to drop his first album, the fact that he has already developed a broad, unyielding fan base is quite impressive. Especially since, until recently, his beautifully crafted yet sparse online presence tended to leave you with more questions than answers. Despite this, on every level, the Leon Bridges fan club feels like it is standing room only. Maybe because, for once, there’s no need for spin? The person, the brand and the music are all interchangeable because they’re all classically genuine.
In Manhattan I watched the show. I got swept up in the moment like everyone else instantly. I fought to take in each detail, every nuance, in case I find myself in a position to retell the story at a dinner party someday. Even under scrutiny, there doesn’t seem to be any duality in his stage presence and his real life presence. In the extra lingering seconds it took to tune the guitar before beginning their first song, his boyish glances and apologetic smiles only made the audience love him more. He announced the title of each song before playing it. He thanked us for listening after each song finished. He set up his two background singers in the foreground right beside him. Like everything else, this felt like a conscious decision to value everyone equally. In terms of style, every member of the band seemed to be of the same vintage. Except the saxophone player. He seemed to be the only one bebopping to his own tune. And yet, it worked. His talents and goofy on-stage presence only gave the entire experience more personality.
Brown Skin Girl
There She Goes
In My Arms
Twistin & Groovin
By showtime in Los Angeles I had one extra ticket. A friend had dropped out at the eleventh hour and I made a snap decision to give it away for free to one of the hopefuls roped off outside the venue. I thought briefly about selling it but it just didn’t feel right. Somehow, bringing the experience of Leon into a stranger’s life made me feel good inside.
In LA I watched the crowd. I watched new faces experience him for the first time, which was an entirely different, equally thrilling experience. I saw couples tap each other on the shoulder and mouth, “He is incredible.” Then I watched the partner mouth back, “I told you.” I watched the grin on one friend’s face a few paces away continue to spread, song after song, until he was chuckling at his own bemusement. He couldn’t believe his ears.
- There was a moment halfway through each performance when the melody transitioned from peppy doo-wop to soulful ballad and the audience transitioned from a sway to a standstill. Enthrallment to awe. In New York it was during “In My Arms”, in LA it was during “Daisy Mae.” Both times we melted together into a puddle on the floor. Both times everyone else seemed to realize what I had, too. That this was all going to be important later on.
Everything about Leon Bridges seems like it pre-dates the concept of branding, so I won’t bother exploring it. Besides, I’m not sure you can call it branding when you’re just walking around being who you are. Anyone who hasn’t already should check out his talented photo ally, Erin Rambo [@theerinmargaret on Instagram], who is responsible for the stark black & whites on his site. She is an artist and a future visionary in her own right.
Looking forward, he might be known for having one of the least polarizing voices set in front of a microphone. So far I haven’t met anyone who has heard his sound and decided they weren’t into it afterward. The only thing that seems to be prohibitive is if you can’t get to his music. The breadth of his appeal might be limited by the technology he relies on for people to hear his music. He’s already positioned to bridge the generational gap because of his nostalgic Sam Cooke vocals (and because he is unassuming instead of egoistical and we’re starved for humility in our performers these days).
If you’re a woman, there is only one potential downside that’s worth considering before stepping into a Leon Bridges’ show. If you go through with it, he might ruin you for all other men. If you’re a man, you must consider the same ripple effects of this reality before taking your newest snuggle. You could be going home alone if you don’t because she’s been reminded that men with classic values and follow through still exist.
- Eighteen months ago Leon Bridges was a dishwasher who didn’t think singing was for him. Today he’s an up-and-coming Columbia artist playing to small sold out shows. Right now everyone who has seen him live feels like they are in on the same secret. All of us know it won’t be a secret for long.
written by A. M. Boidock
-A.M. Boidock is a Contributor to TheCoLA-