Monday, March 7, 2016

Leon Bridges at the Beacon Theatre

Todd Michael Bridges, better known by his stage name of Leon Bridges, can sound like a gospel singer, but he was too shy to audition for the church choir when he was a child in Fort Worth, Texas. Later, while attending community college, he studied dance, inspired as a kid by seeing his dad moonwalk, and learned to play simple chords on a guitar in order to accompany the songs he had begun composing. Living with his mother, Bridges worked as a busser and then as a dishwasher, but wore sharp vintage suits when he sang old-school-styled soul songs at local open-mic nights. Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block of White Denim happened to catch his show and subsequently launched his career by producing tracks that received local airplay. Bridges' debut album, Coming Home, was released on June 23, 2015.

Headlining two nights at the Beacon Theatre, Bridges highlighted the retro in neo-soul. Although he is a mere 26 years old, his set was an authentic throwback to 1960, when Sam Cooke and similar crooners were finding a larger and whiter pop audience. Several vocalists recently have explored this rhythm and blues renaissance, but Bridges perhaps sounded the most genuine, thanks to the nuanced arrangements that deliberately accentuated both smooth vocals and a punctuating saxophone. It also helped that he dressed and moved like he was on American Bandstand. The 90-minute set included his entire debut album plus a few additional songs from the deluxe edition, and accompanied by six musicians and one background vocalist, the minimalistic arrangements were sweet and classy. Contrary to what some may view as gimmickry, the product was respectful of an African-American musical legacy and deliciously served for a nostalgic audience.

Visit Leon Bridges at www.leonbridges.com.