Hands rested on backs, arms curled around waists, chins rested on shoulders and fingers intertwined — it seems that everyone, from retirees to college students, seeing Leon Bridges at the Sylvee on May 2 was coupled up for a date night. This is no surprise, given the sultry and romantic lyrics that Leon Bridges is best known for.
“I hope he plays 'Beyond'… It’s all about new love and ‘she might just be the one,’” mused concertgoer Nicci Fite.
Chiiild, a “synthetic soul” band from Montréal, opened the show with buttery vocals and anthemic hooks, but had trouble capturing the crowd’s attention. The audience was more focused on those around them. The band’s guitar solos and spoken interludes became dulled by chatter. Chiiild attempted some audience participation via call-and-response, but was met with lukewarm participation.
The mood shifted when Chiiild played their song, “Darlin.” The bright white searchlights wandered the crowd while lead vocalist Yonatan “xSDTRK” Ayal sang, “You are the best of me, darlin.’ You bring out the best of me, darlin.”
The groovy beat and heavy bassline made the song feel like something off the soundtrack of a hip romance movie. It would be perfect for when the two main characters kiss for the first time. This was the mood the audience was here for.
After a brief set-up period, Bridges’ band opened the show with an instrumental while the yellow backdrop got brighter as the song went on. Transfixed, the crowd erupted into applause when Bridges himself entered the stage. His outfit was all-black, accented with silver studs and oversized sunglasses. As he sang “Shy,” the backdrop shifted from yellow to sky blue.
When the lights went down between songs, the flares on Bridges’ pants and sleeves created shadowy silhouettes on the stage. Then, as the bouncy intro to “Steam” picked up, and the backdrop shone gold, Bridges asked the crowd, “we got a new album out, has anyone been listening?” Cheers echoed throughout the Sylvee with pockets of awkward silence.
“Coming Home,” Bridges’ first album, is by far his most popular and what the majority of the audience was there to hear. Lindsey Doring, a younger fan of his older work, loves that it sounds “straight out of the 60s.”
His newer works incorporate more of a vintage twist — funky saxophone solos and a 1970s swagger rather than a full sepia-toned vintage filter carried by doo-wop backup singers and slow-dance tempos.
One through line that spans all three of Bridges’ albums is his spirituality. He told the concertgoers that his song “Born Again” was inspired by his time in East Hollywood while he produced his most recent album, “Gold-Digger’s Sound.”
He sang about feeling joy again and finding truth in what can only be described as a soulful hymn. “Born Again” flowed into “Details,” Bridges’ self-proclaimed “favorite love song,” smoothly turning a sacred sound back into something sensual.
Bridges then played “Motorbike” and “Magnolias,” the most iconic tracks from his latest album, marked by effortlessly cool, seamlessly dreamy genre-bending music.
Bridges fan Evan Decker was at the concert specifically for that latest album.
“Each time, he’s doing something different, but he’s still himself,” said Decker. “Feeling comfortable being honest to himself like that shows a lot about the artist being cool with who they are.”
Bridges is honest in his music and knows which hits his fans want to hear. He teased one of his biggest songs by mentioning his Texas upbringing.
“I was really on my country shit with this one,” he said as the band played the intro to “Beyond.”
All of the couples held each other even tighter and swayed. When the lyrics started, the crowd sang along to every word and even cranked up the volume when Bridges held the microphone out towards them for an entire chorus.
“Thank you for your love,” murmured Bridges as the outro faded.
He closed the show on a feel-good note with an extended version of “Bad Bad News,” with extra instrumental breaks to allow each member of the band to have their moment to shine. Bridges then strutted off to thunderous applause…but returned minutes later.
“Uh, I forgot something…” he said while scratching his head. “I forgot to play my whole first album.” The crowd screamed the loudest they had the entire night.
Bridges played a four song encore, a mini-set of his hits from “Coming Home.” For the last song, he took a more stripped-down approach. The whole band except for the keyboard player snuck offstage.
Bridges called one of his backup singers up next to him, picked up an acoustic guitar and played the soft, cleansing chords of “River.” Bridges’ strong, velvety voice blended in harmony with the other singer’s clear, warm soprano.
While the concert as a whole felt sultry, dynamic and sensual, Bridges’ final song was intimate, familiar and the most vulnerable of the entire show.
Overall, it was an incredible concert. It was evident how much Bridges has evolved as an artist since “Coming Home” put him on the map — all the while threading themes of spirituality and honesty throughout his albums. The overarching message of his music centers on those cheek brushes, locked eyes and slow dancing in the audience: the lovers.
Final grade: A