Live Reviews Music

Live Review: Leon Bridges at O2 Academy Brixton – 17/11/2018

Soul is long overdue a revival. Its sister genre funk has come back into fashion with Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams and Draft Punk all of whom have incorporated funk into their sound. And the global mourning of soul legend Aretha Franklin proves soul is still a genre close to the hearts of many. Yet until recently, there was no face for any prospective revival. That was until Leon Bridges broke onto the scene with his 2015 debut album Coming Home, which firmly established a strong new voice in a genre which had laid dormant for far too long.

After the release of Coming Home many pegged Bridges as a simple retro 60s throwback artist. However, with his follow up Good Thing, Bridges proved he is much more than this with an album which had increased depth with lyrics which were both personal and political in the vein of the soul greats. Good Thing also maintained the retro sound which makes Bridges standout in today’s musical landscape and offered more of Bridges’ vocals which truly make you want to melt. The quality of these first two albums meant expectations were high going into the show.

As soon as Bridges’ band came on stage, they set the tone for the evening. A traditional seven-piece set up featuring, rhythm and lead guitar, bass, keys, and two backing singers, the music was pure, no gimmicks. The sound was sexy and smooth, something Bridges only accentuated when he joined the fray. This was combined with a basic lighting set up which functionally lit most of the stage with the colour of the fill light changing depending on the mood of the song. While not being very impressive, this set up mostly did its job allowing Bridges and his band to do their thing and give the audience a good time. However, the lighting did fail to cover the far left and right front corners of the stage which often left Bridges in darkness as he utilised the full stage. Yet, this didn’t really matter as it didn’t impede his performance.

Bridges proved himself to be a true showman from his velvet red and gold jacket to his body popping dance moves. He owned the stage and knew how to get the audience going with a performance which was remonstrant of Jimmy “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls but with a modern twist. While I came for the voice, I stayed for dance moves which were so infectious I had to groove myself.

While his moves and overall performance were the most impressive part of the evening, Bridges’ voice didn’t disappoint. The rich silky-smooth tones of Bridges’ vocals carried over from the recording and while his vocals didn’t quite live up to the studio version, this was more than made up for by his killer performance.

The setlist for the evening was very well balanced exploring every element of Bridges’ musical personality with Soul, Funk, and Bluegrass all having a moment to shine. The evening started slow, with his love songs and ballads allowing him to show off “Beyond” and “Mrs” from Good Thing and warm up his vocals and performance. The energy levels then built, as the songs just kept getting groovier and groovier and Bridges’ kept taking his dancing to the next level. A highlight of the funky part of the evening was the very danceable and sexy “You Don’t Know”. The main set ended with “Flowers” which, in the vain of the rest of the set was feel good and fun. However, it wasn’t until the encore that Bridges’ peaked, coming back on stage with a guitar and performing “River” with backing vocalist, Brittni Jessie who shined as much as Bridges in a beautiful end to the evening.

Bridges show was as much a party as a performance, and Bridges was having almost as much fun as the audience. The show was the ultimate feel-good experience, celebrating love and positivity and I can’t help but think everyone came out of the gig a better person than when they came in. The young age of the nearly 5,000 strong audience made me optimistic soul can make a strong come back with Leon Bridges as the face of the revival.