Leon Bridges – The Forum
Leon Bridges – The Forum
Written and photographed by Sarah Rix
There’s a distinctive way that Leon Bridges carries himself on stage. When he’s not stood behind the microphone – flanked by a six-piece backing band and crooning sweet sounds from centre stage – the 28-year-old Texan is pacing. Clad in vivid red, he’s slightly hunched in the shoulders and walks quickly – like a boxer with nervous pre-bout energy, or a mad scientist trying to catch up to his thoughts. He seems like he has the weight of the entire genre of soul on his shoulders.
This may very well be true and, based on Bridges’ Sunday night return to Melbourne’s Forum Theatre, it seems the future is in capable hands.
With his well-received debut, Coming Home, and ahead of the May release of his sophomore album, Good Thing, he brought material both old and new to entertain the sold out crowd.
It’s important to note that it’s all exceptionally clean. Bridges and his band are calculated, precise, and smooth in their delivery. If you spent your time waiting for him to fly off the handles and lose himself in the moment, you might be dismayed to note the guttural punch never really comes. He hints at it and gets there in small doses with some well-delivered notes – but truthfully there’s no big, climactic moment.
Maybe for his purposes, though, there doesn’t need to be. Maybe there shouldn’t be. Instead, it’s like watching a black and white television set where, at some point, you just let it wash over you in a wave of hypnosis. If you closed your eyes at any point during the set, you’d be forgiven for feeling like you were transported to an era long gone. That might be the point.
While familiar songs like “Brown Skin Girl”, “Coming Home”, and “Smooth Sailin” landed well with an audience happy to sway along, the new material is likely to become fast favourites. Bridges is retaining all the familiarities of 60s soul, but he’s also dipping his toes into the disco waters.
Already released singles like “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” and “Bad Bad News” encouraged singalongs, while another new one (with the lyrics “Oh baby… say you will, say you might”) held a distinctive 70s sound but also duelling guitars and drumrolls straight from the mid-aughts – think Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” for a point of reference. Another new one, with the repetitive chorus of “She might just be my everything” was another highlight for the evening. It’s reason enough to get excited for Good Thing: Bridges is clearly stepping his material up for increasingly larger stages.
Older songs like 2015’s “Better Man” also proved more upbeat, though it was the stripped back “River” – featuring beautiful harmonies between him and backing vocalist Brittni Jessie – that truly stole the night.What Bridges does, he does well. Luckily for everyone, he also seems to be doing more of it – expanding his sound while developing the initial talent that got him there. He’s an artist whose career will be interesting to watch over the next five, 10, and even 50 years. With the legends of soul behind him and his space atop the new generation, he’s capable of carving out whatever niche he likes. No pressure, Leon Bridges. Just keep pacing away.