Published Sep 28, 2018Maybe it's because the only (fashion) rules he plays by are his own. Or maybe it's because it's because he is performing at a beach.
Regardless, Leon Bridges confidently strides out on stage under a crisp autumn sky decked out in bleach-white trousers and stylish, white hooded jacket weeks after Labour Day's deadline for such a colour selection. After all, the soulful singer-songwriter has the kind of spell-casting voice and this light, effortless charisma that can transport you in time.
The man just feels like summer.
"The first time here we played the Drake Hotel," Bridges says as he looks out over a packed general-admission gathering that stretches to back lawn and food kiosks. "We've upgraded."
A 29-year-old rising star from Fort Worth, TX, is almost sheepish when he reminds the happy swarm by the lake — a mash of ages, genders and style types that speaks to his boundary-blurring appeal — that he has only released two projects. Then he proceeds to deliver the best from both, flip-flopping frequently between selections from this year's range-expanding Good Thing and 2015's Coming Home, which thrust him on the map as throwback artist, some lost grandson of Otis Redding.
Bridges opens his 100-minute set with upbeat new singles "If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)" and the jazzy "Bad Bad News," touching on the slower, sweeter "Shy" (a personal favourite) before announcing: "That's too much new-new for them. Go back to the ones they know."
It's almost a bit of self-deprecating acknowledgement that his debut LP stirred up a little more hype. So he hits the crowd with "Coming Home."
Painted against the backdrop of Toronto's CN Tower skyline and backed by an airtight seven-piece band and a large, glowing "LB," Bridges keeps the frills to minimum. Your focus remains on that killer voice, which can soar at will but mostly swims smooth in the pocket, and some rather funky dance moves. It's not just that Bridges — a confessed introvert in his daily life — is an excellent showman; it's that he looks like he's genuinely having a blast doing it.
"Oh, yeah. I turn into a whole other person when I'm onstage," he once told me for an Exclaim! feature. "That's really when I'm in my element. Instantly, the performer in me kicks in."
Deeper into his set list, Bridges breaks out some of his more delicate numbers, like "Lisa Sawyer," an ode to his mother's journey, and "Brown Skin Girl."
Then, sensing the yawns coming, he says, "Sorry for all the ballads. Can we bring the tempo up?"
Dancey, groovy jams like "Smooth Sailing" and "Flowers," charged with gusto, are three years old, but they could be 33 years or three minutes old.
Equally timeless is Bridges' closer, "River." He sings it beautifully alone, strumming an acoustic guitar in sea of twinkling stars and smartphones.