On the 11th of November, the lovely Leon Bridges graced Birmingham’s O2 Institute all the way from Texas, with support from singer and producer Amber Mark. Bridges has been making his mark on the soul scene for quite a few years now, with his sound reminiscent of the 60s and his romantic lyricism keeping love songs far from cheesy.
Mark warmed up the audience well; the 24 year old held a clear stage presence before she even began to sing. Her music can only be loosely labelled as R&B, with house, soul and samba influences audible throughout her set. She balanced out the tracks fit for the dance floor with some slower ballads, performing a beautiful cover of Sade’s ‘Love Is Stronger Than Pride’. Mark created a great atmosphere within the audience after her set, leaving a buzz in the air for Leon.
The band emerged first: four men in black suits; the drummer in a buttoned down shirt; the guitarist in all black and a trendy looking female backing singer. Even before the first hit on the bass drum, the band radiated effortless charm and charisma. From the dark, Bridges prowled onto the stage and all eyes were on him as the spotlight appeared. He wore a furry tiger print polo and wide leg leather trousers along with a black hat, an outfit most people could not pull off, but Bridges certainly could.
He began with ‘If It Feels Good (Then it must be)’ from his latest album and it was clear from the offset Bridges is a performer. The man can sing; he’s as vocally talented live as he is in his studio recordings. But the man can also dance. The bands vibrant chemistry flowed as ‘Bad Bad News’ continued into an effortless jam, as Bridges captivated the audience with his contemporary dancing. The star performer made sure to take a break from the limelight to give each of his band members an opportunity to shine, sinking into the background and watching in awe as the others took on a solo slot.
He mixed up his set with new material, songs from his 2015 album ‘Coming Home’ and from his latest album ‘Good Thing’, released earlier this year. Whilst listening to songs such as ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’ it felt as though you had been transported out of the O2 institute into a 1960s swing club. Bridges had the audience jigging about the floor; it was refreshing to hear a modern artist putting his own take on traditional soul. His newer tracks are more R&B sounding, infused with elements of pop and jazz. His music makes sure to pay homage to his Texas roots, whether that’s through his lyrics or the folky and bluesy sound he’s crafted.
The encore involved claps, stamps and screams until Leon strolled back on stage into dim moody lighting with his female back-up singer (Brittni Jessie) and an electric guitar. He performed his single ‘River’, a beautiful song about redemption, showcasing his lyrical ability and raw vocal talent. He finished off with ‘Mississippi Kisses’, a high energy finale that left everyone in the venue dancing and smiling.
Pure soul is not set to fizzle out anytime soon with Leon Bridges around. Somewhere in their graves, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are smiling.