In just five years, Leon Bridges has managed to rise from obscurity in Texas to success in music’s mainstream by adding his own spin to retro musical styles. On 2015’s Coming Home, the Atlanta-born, Fort Worth-bred singer-songwriter lent his Otis Redding-meets-Usher style of performing to a list of earnestly crafted tracks that would’ve fit seamlessly into Motown Records founder Berry Gordy’s personal discography.
With 2018’s Good Thing—and during a post-Independence Day appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles—the artist born Todd Michael Bridges made it clear that he need not keep his feet steeped in the 1960s to stay relevant with memorable, moving music.
Following a relaxed-yet-groove-grounded opening set by Rhye, Leon and his band seized the stage in front of a dazzling display of projected neon lights with a fervor that would have felt unfamiliar to those who’d only heard his debut album. Clad in an outfit that one might find on a rhinestone cowboy on the set of Soul Train, Bridges danced and pranced freely to the more pop-friendly vibes of “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and “Bad Bad News” before downshifting (slightly) to the southern-fried sound of “Mississippi Kisses”. Bridges combined old and new with aplomb by bringing a country twang to the balladic “Beyond” and stripped his sound down to just his smooth vocals and a resounding standup bass on “Georgia to Texas”.
In between, Leon masterfully interpolated between Motown flashbacks on “Better Man”, “Coming Home”, “Brown Skin Girl”, “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand”, and the more modern-sounding R&B beats of “Shy” and “Forgive You.” He dialed down the rhythm for a sultry swoon on “Lions” and ramped the RPMs back up for the disco danceability of “You Don’t Know”. Bridges also did plenty more to channel his Lone Star roots, from the motherly ode of “Lisa Sawyer” and the country crooning of “Mrs.”, to the hopping bop of “Flowers” and horn-filled honky tonk of “Smooth Sailing”.
Truth be told, it wouldn’t have been a proper Leon Bridges show without a return to the gospel-inspired serenade of “River”, which the man and his band busted out as their encore.
Through it all, Bridges once again pushed the envelope not by inventing genres, but rather by expanding his own repertoire of beloved established styles closer to the present day. Along the way, he showed himself to be as much a soul singer in the mold of Sam Cooke as a vibrant, fearless performer as the late (and perpetually sweat-stained) James Brown. Given the pace at which Leon’s star has risen and his handle on different genres has grown, those who have followed his burgeoning career thus far should be on pins and needles while they wait to see where the currents of his own sonic river flow to next.
Bridges’ 2019 summer tour picks up again on August 10th with a performance at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, NV. Head to Bridges’ official website for ticket info.
Scroll down for photos from Bridges’ Hollywood Bowl performance, courtesy of photographer Josh Martin.
Setlist: Leon Bridges | The Hollywood Bowl | Hollywood, CA | 7/5/2019
Set: If It Feels Good, Bad Bad News, Mississippi Kisses, Better Man, Shy, Coming Home, Beyond, Brown Skin Girl, Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand, Forgive You, Georgia To Texas, Lions, You Don’t, Know, Lisa Sawyer, Hold On, Mrs, Smooth Sailing, Flowers