The whoops, screams and hollers that greet Leon Bridges at a rammed and sold-out Brixton Academy are very clearly a testament to the young soul singer’s rapid ascent from obscurity to stardom. Less than a year ago, the 26-year-old Texan was playing the far more snug environs of east London’s Village Underground, yet in that short space of time, Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, cracked both the US and UK Top 10s while increasing his audience – especially with younger crowds hungry for the 60s-style R&B with which he’s made his name.
To look at the venue this evening is to gaze back at 1963. His band, standing on strategically positioned risers on the stage, are dressed in narrow-lapelled jackets and trousers tapered to around 16 inches at the ankle. Bridges himself looks resplendent in his looser cut clothes, presumably to make those shimmies and moves across the stage that much more comfortable, and the overall effect is not unlike catching a chitlin’ circuit soul revue transplanted to a bigger room.
As evidenced by the likes of the driving Smooth Sailin’ or the hazy groove of Brown Skin Girl, the sound emanating from the stage is a perfect evocation of a time gone by – and therein lies the problem. All too often the overall effect is one of style over substance, and it’s difficult to subscribe to the idea that Bridges is drawing deep from himself to flesh out the presentation. It’s almost as if he’s scared to shoot from the hip for fear of tarnishing a sound and look which are presented as just so.
Make no mistake; Leon Bridges is a talented singer and performer, but one suspects that his recreation of the past may need a sharp jolt from the present to put some much needed grit under his fingernails and fire in his belly.