Leon Bridges's Old Soul Woos and Wows House of Blues

Leon Bridges, Dovetail
House of Blues
November 13, 2015

When you first lay eyes on Leon Bridges, he’s a throwback: bowler shoes, cropped haircut, suit and tie. In his off days he can be found in Dallas, thrift-shopping to find retro threads that match his demeanor. I played “River,” the closing song to his self-titled debut album for my mother and she thought it was gospel.

“No,” I told her. “But he definitely has an old soul.”

That old soul leaped from Bridges’ voice on Friday night, his second visit to House of Blues this year but his first as rightful headliner. Dovetail, the gospel group, opened for him and managed to not only set a tone but alleviate some of my early qualms about the show. What could Leon do that he hadn’t done already? How could he top his upstaging headliners Lord Huron this past summer?

Bridges was coming back to Houston before sliding home to Dallas, a quick-hitter that served as one of his final shows of an eventful 2015. He grew up as a church boy, which is why those tones of a Southern boy knee-deep in his inspirations bore heavily on my mind. Bridges wooed and wowed for 70-minutes Friday night, he and his band taking full command of the moment and enthralling a sold-out crowd not just with Coming Home but a few non-album cuts and rarities.

The tenor of Bridges, his “old man” appeal, dared the crowd to dance — not saunter back and forth but actually go full juke joint, handclap and swing. He powered through “Coming Home” and the crowd lit up and sung along with him. His 7-piece band strolled through the set with bravado and flair, playing up records like “Smooth Sailin’” and “Better Man” as if they’d been playing them for decades.

Bridges showed his hand Friday, adding to his already lauded first House of Blues show with a little twist. He closed off a set that I believed could have ended with “River” with a double shot of “Daisy Mae” and “Mississippi Kisses." Mind you, “Daisy Mae” sounds like a prom record that Marty McFly would have enjoyed in 1955, but for Bridges to pull it out as opposed to performing Coming Home straight through was a nice touch.

When Bridges was at HOB in May, I remarked that he crafted the kind of music that reminded me of my grandparents. He steadily offered anecdotes about his own parents, about his mom, who was a singer before him and had casually remarked that he was “old” too. Mom is never wrong, Leon. Mom is never wrong.

Bridges, at all of 26, aims to be timeless. Even if his pen and vocal ability harks back to a decade of human turmoil that needed be coated with a little soul, he can’t help but be himself.
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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell