Photography by: Matt Eachus themancphotographer.co.uk
Strutting the stage in a flamboyant gold and red patterned suit jacket, Leon Bridges looks as though he’s stepped straight out of soul music’s hall of fame, somewhere he’ll certainly be heading if he continues to deliver performances of the calibre displayed this evening at his sold-out Manchester Academy show.
Opening with the up-tempo disco-tinged ‘If it Feels Good Then It Must’, followed by the jazz stomp of ‘Bad News’, Bridges sets the energy levels high from the get-go. “I think that was a little bit too new for y’all”, Leon jests in his deep southern accent, before launching into the title track from his 2015 debut ‘Good Thing’, regurgitated word-for-word from the wall-to-wall-crowd.
You’d be forgiven for assuming a live show from Leon Bridges might consist of the understated soul-singer cradling his microphone and occasionally strumming a guitar, whilst his captivating vocals do all the work. The reality couldn’t be more different, and Leon’s background as a trained dancer sets him apart as one of the most dynamic performers of the moment, well-and-truly leaving his R&B pop-star peers in the dust. Bridges’ body swings seductively with every beat, and any spare moment is used to showcase his rhythmic prowess as the young Texan glides across the stage like a young Usher.
Whilst leaving the majority of the crowd as passengers, the set contained an impressive amount of new material, airing nine of the ten tracks comprising ‘Good Thing’. The singalong soul of ‘Beyond’ proves a firm fan-favourite, with Bridges’ silky vocals barely audible above the crowd. Other highlights include the double-bass led intimacy of ‘Georgia to Texas’, and a down-tempo version of ‘Shy’, with a tastefully-tweaked arrangement allowing the band’s rhythm section to shine.
Despite this, the lengthy hour-and-a-half set allowed plenty of time for Leon to revisit many standout anthems from the Grammy-nominated ‘Coming Home’, rattling through revamped versions of ‘Brown Skin Girl’, ‘Smooth Sailing’ and ‘Lisa Sawyer’. Bridges’ band does a fantastic job of maintaining pace throughout the setlist, tying tracks together with instrumental intermissions that continually keep the audience on their toes.
Closing with the crowd-shaking rock & roll of ‘Flowers’, Bridges returns for an encore, guitar in tow. Satisfying the crowd with a mesmerizing rendition of his modern-classic ‘River’, Bridges dials the energy up one last time, delivering a final blow of break-neck soul with ‘Mississippi Kisses’.
With velvet-like vocals, hypnotising dance-moves and infectious interpretations of his anthemic R&B-tinged soul, Leon Bridges’ live performance is an effortless demonstration of showmanship, delivered by one of soul’s brightest stars.