Leon Bridges is a renaissance man for the modern age.
The 29-year-old Forth Worth singer/songwriter turned a sold-out Palace Theatre into a soulful, southern roadhouse on a stormy Thursday night, filling a 100-minute set with retro charm and tender anthems of love.
Bridges, wearing a sharp pair of salmon-colored trousers and an intricate, handwoven dinner jacket covered in Southwestern-style roses, was flanked by a tight seven-piece band and a towering, neon-colored “LB.” That was the lone backdrop of the modest stage set—the music was always going to be the centerpiece of this performance.
After a smooth intro from the group, Bridges arrived on stage, helping the band kick off the night with the appropriate "If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)." A lively "Bad Bad News" kept the energy level high, with a funky breakdown at the end allowing Bridges to show off the dance moves he perfected during his time as an aspiring choreographer in North Texas.
Bridges’ music has a little something for everybody. He's got songs that can fit in the programming of any radio station or personal playlist, reflecting the many styles and sounds that influenced him along the way: smoothed out swing ("Better Man"), a sultry R&B vibe ("Shy"), passionate soul ("Coming Home"), even a smoky, Live at the Village Vanguard jazz feel ("Lions").
Bridges didn't pick up a guitar until the encore, content to let his dynamic band carry the songs while he paced back and forth at the front of the stage, injecting them with heart and charm. "I feel a little romantic tonight," Bridges announced before leading the band into an impassioned take on his current hit single, "Beyond," which gave the club the warm, intimate feel of a last dance at a 1950s homecoming.
The upbeat numbers were all well-received, but the slower, more introspective and personal tracks got a little lost in the din of the room. Bridges’ individual journey was illuminated in "Georgia to Texas," with a smoldering "Dazed and Confused"-like arrangement, while his ode to his mother, "Lisa Sawyer," was dedicated to all the mothers in the room. But though these heartfelt revelations hit hard on record, they didn't translate on stage, and the energy level sagged.
"Forgive You" updated '70s pop, the raw emotion and vulnerability required for forgiveness bursting through a glossy sheen, while "You Don't Know" was a jam in the spirit of Off the Wall, with Bridges commanding mid-song, "Don't be scared tonight. If you want to dance, go ahead and dance!"
Bridges introduced the smooth "Brown Skin Girl" by proclaiming, "Now, I love all types of women, but I wrote this song celebrating brown-skinned women all over the world, and especially in the Twin Cities tonight." The vibrant tune came across like a playful come-on, and then things got even more heated on the sensual "Mrs."
"Can we bring the tempo up just a bit more?" Bridges asked toward the end of the main set. The full house roared approval, as the band tore into "Smooth Sailin'," echoing the swagger and soul of James Brown's Live at the Apollo. "Flowers" ended the set on a high, with Bridges exclaiming, "I'm going to tell you about the good news" like a Baptist preacher. Indeed, the set began with making a "good good thing out of bad bad news" and ended with that same message of good news winning out in the end.
Bridges began the encore on electric guitar, sharing the lone spotlight with backup singer Brittni Jessie. The room lit up with cell phone lights during the duo’s stunning version of "River." The song was a soulful cleansing, the weight of whatever was troubling us lifted during that intimate moment of congregation.
The night had to end on a upbeat note, and guitarist Brandon Thomas obliged, offering up riffs from Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart," Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away," and Prince's "Purple Rain," before leading the way on a scorching run through of "Mississippi Kisses" that got the whole crowd up and dancing, with Bridges exhorting the balcony and the main floor to get loose, "Let me see you do your thing!" And after getting to see Leon Bridges and his band do their thing, we were left smiling and enlivened, as his message of love and togetherness really hit home.
A note on the opener: Khruangbin’s rousing 40-minute set of space funk warmed up the room well for the headliner. The Houston trio blended dubbed-out soul with fresh psychedelia, even busting into a West Coast gangsta rap instrumental medley that had heads nodding in approval. They play First Avenue on November 27, and this performance convinced a lot of people in the room that they need to be there.
If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)
Bad Bad News
Georgia to Texas
You Don't Know
Brown Skin Girl