When Leon Bridges took the stage on Monday night for a sold-out gig at the Fillmore Auditorium, it became all-too-apparent that his surname was wholly indicative of his ability as a performer; bridging the gap between time and space and transporting audience members to a simpler time, a time it’s clear Bridges yearns to visit. Between his near-perfect 2015 album Coming Home and his dapper dress and sleek moves, he has definitely mastered the time.
Opener Lianne La Havas displayed her own chops during her set and accompanied her vocals with skilled digits on the electric guitar. La Havas has cultivated her own timeless artistry with hits like “Green and Gold” and “What You Don’t Do” from her album Blood. Her smooth, covetous vocals have been used on recordings by Alt-J, Tourist and even Prince. La Havas left Denver fans with a glow as she exited the stage.
Anticipation rose during the set break among the diverse faces of audience members from all walks of life. I was contemplating the blissful melting pot of Leon Bridges’ fandom as he shimmied across the stage, clad in his colorful Sunday best. Bridges’ clothing is more than a look manufactured by the record label to accompany his musical persona; it’s a source of confidence, a crusade of his soul through fabric.
Everything from his dress to his dancing to his demeanor portrays life during another era. His ’50s- and ’60s-inspired hits have earned him comparisons to many legends like Sam Cooke. In addition, he achieved seemingly overnight stardom — Bridges was washing dishes in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas only two years ago. And Monday night, it was clear Bridges needed neither smoke nor mirrors to make your wildest jukebox dreams come true.
Kicking off the evening with the frenetic “Smooth Sailing,” fans hopped to their feet, imitating Bridges’ hip-swaying gyrations. For a fairly new performer, Bridges knows exactly how to put on a show, replicating a 1950’s dance hall during some moments and a bustling church on Sunday service at others. Bridges never overshadowed or clawed for attention over his capable band. His passion and charisma gelled with the musicianship of their supporting roles, flowing into one another flawlessly.
His soul emerged in each of his songs, as an extension of Bridges, the essence of his self rather than a trite creation for the masses. His tracks were raw and unplugged, with room for his voice to roam. He sang about a beautiful woman in “Brown Skinned Girl,” his grandparents’ tryst in “Twistin’ and Groovin’” and his beloved mother in “Lisa Sawyer.” His songs are stories, woven into colorful tapestry of home, love, longing and faith. They are aged far beyond Bridges’ 27 years. Soaring melodies carved the lines of his face, while honest lyrics paraded his earthly wisdom.
When Bridges played “Coming Home,” fans sensed the singularity of the song he cited as “where it all began.” Joyful noise flooded from the floor to the ceiling with “River,” as fans stood close by, swaying shoulder to shoulder and giving praise to the sound of Mr. Bridges. His gospel-inspired songs stood the hairs of your neck on end, bringing an ethereal ambiance into the venue.
He played unreleased tracks like “Hold On” that forced you to wonder how he’s managed to escape the studio since Coming Home. And one definite highlight of the night came as Bridges covered Ginuwine’s “Pony” and made our 90’s rhythm and blues dreams come true.
To be that close to a star whose heat and flame burns so brightly is an unforgettable experience. Despite fame, Bridges seems more grounded than ever, tethered between a taste of stardom and his humble Texas roots. This writer can’t help but imagine Bridges driving home after the show and sitting down to a home-cooked meal with his mom, telling her all about his day as she reminds him it’s his night to take out the trash.