Just like most people, commercials are a nuisance to me. But in 2015 when the iPhone 6’s capacity to capture still videos was touted to the sound of “Coming Home,” I had to scramble for my phone and Shazam it to find out whose sultry voice bellowed through my computer. I had discovered Leon Bridges. Music for me has never been the same since, and for two nights this past week Bridges came to The Fillmore on a tour of his new album “Good Thing.”
The set was unfurled at 9 p.m. after a performance by the Texan three-piece band, Khruangbin, who entertained the crowd with psychedelic selections from their album “Dead Oceans.” When the crowd seemed uninspired by the non-lyrical performance, Khruangbin resorted to playing acoustic covers to salvage the situation. At a certain point the music seemed to fade into the background of the performance as the crowd quipped over Laura Lee’s dance moves, Mark Speer’s straight out of the rodeo boots and Donald Johnson’s stoic expression on drums.
For 15 minutes before Bridges took the stage, concertgoers clamored for space, some seeking room close to the front, perhaps to touch the feet of their chosen messiah, while others just wanted some real estate to wiggle to the upbeat tunes that characterize the new album. Behind me, two 25-year-olds from Lancaster stood their ground to prevent late arrivals from stealing the show. On my side an enthusiastic white-haired gentleman, perhaps in his 60s held his wife close, ready to serenade her with some soulful lip syncing. On my right, The Triangle’s assistant news editor, Roy Aguilar, who has enjoyed Bridges’ music since the harsher times when Bridges was a small town artist who could barely secure a solo performance, shouted “all day all night, all right all right!” in anticipation.
Bridges ran into the room and the crowd erupted in excitement. He clutched the microphone which was adorned with glitter and immediately started belting out lyrics to “If It Feels Good” to set the tone for the night. Known for his eccentric ’60s attire, the man did not disappoint. He wore a pair of loose hanging black pants accentuated by a drapey coat that could easily pass for a Sukajan jacket, with a tiger emblazoned on the back. To top it all, a rolled up black beanie. High fashion indeed.
Just 10 minutes into the performance, the upbeat tempo suddenly took a turn with a callback to his 2015 album with a hearty performance of “Better Man.” This was followed by “Shy” from his new album to make the mood even more mellow, as every man and woman swooned at the vocals by backup artist Brittni Jessie. But Leon was not going to let the performance turn into a slumber party. He injected life back into the crowd as he turned the stage into a playground, engaging the crowd in a tug-of-war to see which side would capture the rhythm and tone of his retro funk and modern pop mashup “You Don’t Know.” As Bridges pointed at a specific concertgoer to serenade her with “Ooh baby, ahh baby” the lady behind me quipped, “I’m so jealous.” Bridges had won some hearts.
The night was spent in a back-and-forth between the old and new albums’ classics and dedications to his home state, Texas, and beloved mother as well as clearly well-rehearsed dance moves that are a hallmark of his stylistic renaissance. All of a sudden the lights went out. Bridges and his ensemble walked backstage. The stage manager walked onto the stage and rearranged the microphone stands as though the shop was closed for business. The crowd was having none of it.
“Two more songs! Two more songs!” we chanted, he heard. The messiah and his disciples walked back on stage. Bridges clutched an acoustic guitar while Jessie stood beside him for a riveting performance of “River;” that muse with gospel undertones that propelled Leon Bridges to stardom. The crowd turned on their cell phone lights as though ready to receive the sacrament on the last supper. A hush descended upon the room as each concertgoer took a moment to reflect.
In the final act, Bridges introduced his bandmates and let them take the limelight in individual displays of prowess at their respective instruments. The crowd loved it, but the show had to end. To kiss us goodbye, Bridges performed “Mississippi Kisses,” a fitting end to a soulful night. As I walked out of the Fillmore to catch the subway back to 34th Street Station, I mused to Roy, “what a mature night.” It was indeed.