Review: Leon Bridges brings slow jams and dance moves to St. Paul

The R&B/soul singer played last Thursday and Friday night at the Palace Theater

by Liv Martin

On Friday night, Leon Bridges reminded us the 60s are not dead. 

The 29-year-old Texan entered the stage for the second night of his two-night gig with a spring in his step, looking like a retro cowboy at a disco in flared black pants, a Western button-up shirt and slicked-back hair.

From the outset, Bridges paced the stage almost constantly. He moved to the beat and snuck in body rolls and funky footwork, prompting hoots of encouragement from the crowd.

Any concert-goer attempting to snap a photo of Bridges was met with a challenge — he didn’t stay in one place for long.

Still, his energy was contagious. Bridges’ on-stage finesse and charm showed musical maturity.

Bridges’ style comes from a tradition of soul kings like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. Though it’s difficult to compare anyone to these icons, it was obvious from his performance that Bridges respects the roots of his craft.

Bridges was supported by a band comprising two guitars, bass, keyboard, saxophone and drums. Two backup singers wielded maracas and a set of bongo drums.

Early in the show, Bridges played the song that catapulted him to fame: “Coming Home,” his 2015 album’s titular track. With its nostalgic flavor and sway-able quality, it was easy for the audience to fall into a rosy trance. 

The show’s pacing was also on point. Bridges has figured out a foolproof method to keep an R&B concert from getting too bogged down by slow-tempo songs. Friday’s lineup of feel-good bops intermixed with slow jams felt just right. 

This being said, Bridges’ voice excelled during his slower songs. His tone was clear and powerful, his timing dramatic but not over-the-top.

One of the best songs of the night was “Georgia to Texas” off Bridges’ newly-released sophomore album, “Good Thing.” The song began with the low, heavy plucking of a stand-up bass (which in retrospect should have been louder to combat the white noise created by the crowd). Bridges’s voice came in clearly and set the tone.

The song has the power to transport you to a smoky jazz club – an image that was cemented further when the saxophonist began to play.

Bridges also shined during “Lisa Sawyer.” The song, from his first album, is an ode to his mother, who was in the crowd at Friday evening’s show. The simple song, complemented by sax and his background singers’ “bop bops,” showcased Bridges’ true talents as a smooth soul crooner. 

Many of his more upbeat songs followed the same formula of a walking bass line, jingling guitars and a constant drumbeat, evoking 60s-style doo-wops. 

Bridges let loose during his cover of “Across the Room,” a song by Seattle-based production duo ODESZA on which he is featured. Though the song was more in the vein of pop than soul, its joyous and catchy tune resonated with the crowd. Even people in the Palace Theatre’s seated balcony were dancing with their hands in the air.  

The emotional high point of the night came during “River.” Bridges requested that the crowd turn on their phone flashlights to set the mood. 

“I want to see your beautiful faces,” said Bridges. For the first time, he had his own guitar. Bridges strummed the song’s simple chord progression; the moment his voice uttered the first lyrics, a calm fell over the room. 

The song was an intimate duet with his female backup singer, who had her own lovely, clear-as-glass voice. 

It was bliss until the very end. During the last line of the song — “I wanna know,” Bridges took a long pause after “I.” The space before he uttered the final “wanna know” was filled with a collective stillness more powerful than any other moment of the night.

Grade: A-