In a little over a year, Leon Bridges has gone from being freshly signed to building a passionate cult following. His debut album, Coming Home, reached No. 8 in the US, introducing the world to his new wave of guitar soaked 50s-inspired soul.
He was welcomed last week to San Francisco to play at a sold-out Fillmore. His retro soul was at home in the historic venue which joins San Francisco’s Fillmore and Western Addition districts. The area known as “The Harlem of the West” was a fitting location for Leon Bridges to perform music which heavily throws back to sounds of early-civil rights era R&B.
Looking around the Fillmore there were flutters of people wearing vintage clothing; white shirts, skinny ties and waistcoats were the garments of choice. It made for a nice contrast seeing the retro-fitted fashionistas cozying up to people from all walks of life there to enjoy the man of the moment.
The start was impactful, a stage drenched in black, with solemn guitar licks. This was soon swept away with the color of “Flowers.” A little nod to the ‘Brown Skinned Girls’ and Leon was in full flow. Leon Bridge’s sound was warm and comforting; filled out with the occasional sax solo.
The guitar heavy R&B, by modern standards of soul music, makes for a distinctive sound which was taken full advantage of on “Smooth Sailing.” At times it felt like a Northern Soul party, small groups of people seeming to pay little attention to the visual aspect and breaking out in to their own jaunty dance circles.
Not one for conversation, Leon was very personable. The odd joke made him appear as loveably shy as his baby-faced looks; aged 12 before his haircut, 8 years old afterwards!
During the performance of “Coming Home,” Leon asked the audience to fill in for him; what followed was not just a line or two, it was pretty much the whole verse. It was a nice moment and alongside the subtle rendition of “River” (closing out the main set) they provided two of many highlights.
Just the other Saturday, after watching Stanley Nelson Jr’s documentary on the Black Panthers, my friend and I were discussing how moments of social revolution are often soundtracked to funk & soul. D’Angelo’s return and Kendrick Lamar’s album had the bite of revolution intertwined with heavy soul leanings. Leaving The Fillmore, I passed by the merch stand and saw a tee with the slogan, I AM R AND B. It threw back to the iconic civil rights slogan I AM A MAN and stopped me. While Coming Home is largely a collection of love songs, it showed there may be an undertone of protest in Leon the man. Music is a way to share stories and ideas, and only Leon Bridges knows what he is going to create next. He is at the start of what is promising to be a exciting musical career and I for one am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this soul singer from Fort Worth with a sharp suit and a vintage soul.
Photos by Robert Alleyne