Leon Bridges is a storyteller. He’s so good at storytelling, in fact, that you feel like maybe you know him and his mother, and that you could even be friends if you could just meet him after the concert. And that’s exactly how attendees at the Greek Theatre felt after seeing Leon Bridges perform.
Garbed in what can only be described as a modern-day zoot suit, with a teal baggy jacket and dark purple harem pants, Leon Bridges twirls onto stage singing “Smooth Sailin’,” teasing the audience with a set of dance moves where he looks like he’s being tugged by an invisible force causing him to twirl and spin that he later calls the “Texas Boogie.” It’s reminiscent of a Fred Astaire kind of tapping in the way that it doesn’t necessarily look like he’s moving his feet, but his body is somehow progressing across the stage. He’s only anchored to the ground by the mic stand, and even that isn’t sedentary as he drags it across stage, spinning round and round, snaking between members of his band as he performs most of his debut album, Coming Home.
Bridges sounds exactly the same on his record as he does live — each note is warm with a scratchy quality that evokes genuine sentiment and intention. Every song is imbued with so much emotion that it’s hard not to practically feel what he feels while you watch him sing. “River” sounds desperately sincere as Bridges’ solo voice echoes mournfully, having the audience fall into reverential silence radiating the Greek Theatre with their lighters.
There’s something so disarmingly personal about the way Bridges speaks. He talks to you the whole time — each song is preceded by variations of “Let me tell you something else” and “I’m telling only true stories all night.” He tells the audience pleasantly about how his mother says “hi” to each and every person at the Greek Theatre, he invites all the girls in attendance to go down with him to Texas to meet his family and even details the story of his grandparents’ first meeting.
His connection with the audience is effortless, asking questions such as, “Are you ready to go to church with me tonight Berkeley Cal?” as he launches into “Shine,” asking God to use him as His vessel. He even politely asks each member of the audience to hug each other and tell the stranger next to them that they love them.
He never swears, never mentions any sort of inebriating substance, never speaks about vulgarities. Instead, he focuses on a romantic love that is found only in songs from the 1940s where the boy calls the girl “cutie” and “honey.”
The only song of “explicit” content that he performs isn’t even his own. He covers Ginuwine’s “Pony” during the encore — in what might possibly be the most soulful rendition of the song ever performed. Even before that, he politely shouted out Ginuwine for inspiring him to become a singer and dancer.
Bridges has the musical and lyrical quality of those romantic 1960s R&B artists, like the early Temptations and even the Spinners circa “I’ll Be Around” combined — a sort of romanticized version of what life is and what life could be. And it almost looks like life could be purely perfect in the Greek Theatre as he sings “Pull Away,” thrusting the audience into a soft violet visual scape as couples grip each other tightly.
Yet he manages to keep the energy almost impossibly high the entire night as he jarringly launches into a James Brown-esque sing-song dialogue with the audience in which he entreats, “Do Berkeley Cal got the juice?” in different intonations repeated, layered over his band’s swirling saxophones and organs.
The Greek Theatre was taken on a life journey with Leon Bridges. Songs about his mother and grandparents, songs about loving brown skin, loving women and loving God created a connection with the audience that not many artists of this day and age are able to achieve. He drew the audience into his life and into his story, as he painted a picture of his influences, loves and desires. We were taken to his hometown. We were taken to his church. And, quite honestly, we were taken into the mind of what makes Leon Bridges who he is — a genuine musician with a story to tell.