The Southern gentleman, sharply dressed in a cobalt blue blazer, slacks and a starched, white-collared shirt, appeared in front of the blood-red curtains at the Gothic Theatre on All Hallows' Eve, accompanied by a six-piece band that held more soul than a worn-out Texas riding boot. Leon Bridges, a 26-year-old singer/songwriter from Fort Worth, stopped off in Denver on his first headlining North American tour, promoting his debut album, Coming Home.
The vibe that lingered in the sold-out Gothic Theatre was a bit surreal, almost disjointed from reality. Many of the patrons came dressed in Halloween costumes from different eras, creating a whimsical scene as the 1950s-'60s rhythm and blues/soul band wallowed in brokenhearted love ballads. Bridges’s eerie, soothing voice cut through the atmosphere and faded away as if it were a dream.
Bridges is a picturesque 1960s soul singer, reminiscent of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Jackie Wilson. He embodies the movements of Wilson and Chuck Berry, with duck walks and seamless spins that look as if he's been transformed into a stringed marionette, allowing the movement of the act to take over and produce the emotional conversation needed to feed the fire.
The band backing Bridges is critical to his sound; each individual’s personality comes to life through his or her instrumentation. The sax player stood front and stage right with Bridges the entire night, blasting simple, masterful horn solos that took the energy of the show up a notch. Drummer Joshua Block is a beast; he was consistently in the pocket, adding little intricacies to the set that might have gone unnoticed but played a fundamental role to the overall sound and vibe of the evening.
Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins played a vital role in Coming Home. They recorded Bridges’s early singles that gained recognition on sound cloud and prompted the buzz; they now tour with Bridges, accompanied by a bass/organ player, back-up singer, guitarist and tenor saxophonist.
Bridges played the entirety of his debut album, plus a handful of new songs. That material included several slow love ballads reminiscent of Otis Redding — but a few new songs proved to be scorchers.
When the band returned for an encore, Jenkins began playing a hypnotic, hip-shaking rhythm on the guitar. Block soon joined in with a surf-style drum pattern. The entire band then went into what seemed to be "Pussyfootin’," a new song from Bridges that possesses the magic of classics like Shirley Ellis’s "Nitty Gritty" and Redding’s "Let Me Come On Home."
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Throughout the performance, Bridges showed that he not only has a timeless sound and an incredible band, but a commodity very rare in music today: honesty.