Leon Bridges Was a Star at South Side Music Hall Last Night, But Not Quite a Superstar
Leon Bridges, pictured at SXSW in March, played something of a homecoming at South Side on Sunday
Lord Huron With Leon Bridges South Side Music Hall, Dallas Sunday, May 10, 2015
The hype behind Leon Bridges just keeps growing. Last night at South Side Music Hall, the Fort Worth native was the ostensible opener for Lord Huron, but it was almost impossible not to see him as the main attraction. This was an important career moment for Bridges, an opportunity to draw a line in the sand. We once pondered if Leon Bridges is the truth. As his first show in Dallas since the sudden ascendancy of his career, this show gave an unequivocal answer to that question.
As recently as late January, Bridges was playing an early afternoon set at Trees where a band of high schoolers would follow much later in the evening. Not too long before that, he was washing dishes at a restaurant. Since then, he stormed through SXSW, got featured by Grantland, written up by Billboard and made his late-night television debut on Late Late Show with James Condon. His star power went from 0 to 100, real quick.
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So, Bridges, the Fort Worth bred blast from the past, was back on home(ish) turf for the first time in a long time and almost everything has changed for him since his last visit to town. This was our chance to catch the star-to-be in his newfangled ascendance. Last night he was dressed to the nines sporting a tuxedo, which isn't the normal concert attire you'd expect from a 25-year-old singer in the year 2015, but Bridges isn't normal -- at least for 2015. The interesting quandary is that if you throw Bridges in a DeLorean, crank up the speed to 88 mph and send him back the '50s or '60s, the time period he so deftly emulates, he would without a doubt be nothing too special.
The thing that's so arresting about Bridges is that he's the polar opposite of what constitutes a contemporary pop star and his talent can leap a Fetty Wap or Rihanna in a single bound. But, what's missing from the winning Bridges formula that the two aforementioned artists have is that intangible star power, something that can't really be explained, but must be witnessed and felt through pure energy.
Bridges' voice isn't going to shatter glass; it isn't that powerful. But it has enough panache to stop anybody in their tracks if he was panhandling on the street during a peak morning or afternoon commute. He hits all the right notes and can move you deeply in pertinent situations. For instance, last night on Mother's Day, he performed "Lisa Sawyer," a ballad written about his mother that essentially acted as the black and white hypnotic swirl slowly winding in a circular motion with music coming out of it.
The very last song he performed, "River," was a stripped-down number with just his two back up singers (who are amazing, by the way) and his guitar. He put his voice and musicianship right there in the spotlight, after having performed his set with an eight-person band the entire night and completely upstaged everything that he had done to precede it. He's truly emotive, which is something that was missing from the rest of his performance, which came across as well-planned and -practiced Sam Cooke karaoke.
Though Bridges is an unquestionable talent, his voice and perfect replication of soul from a bygone era can't carry the torch of arresting an audience with the sheer glow of star power. This is was brought into starker contrast by Lord Huron. The Los Angeles singer was the main event on the marquee, but as a survey will tell you, many in attendance were there for the opening act and Huron was an added perk. Lord Huron plays indie folk that has hints of bluegrass, country and sadly a few very Mumford's and Sons-y hey! ho! moments.
And yet Lord Huron is the better performer of the two, despite the fact that Bridges has a much more digestible and interesting catalog of music. Lord Huron could have you gleefully singing along to the A-B-C's if he wanted to. He's very much a rock star, and that's what I think we all want from Bridges. But he doesn't have it yet -- the energy, the catastrophic gravitational pull.
He's got a major-label record deal and an album coming out in June. The machine is behind him and it's well oiled. He's got a magnificent band behind him with talented players. The only thing missing from the Leon Bridges formula is the spectacular. There are certain aspects of Bridges' act that will leave you astonished and amazed, but it doesn't truly pop and come to life. It's like looking at a beautiful, well-worn sepia painting in a world full of color. However, Bridges, being young and new to the center stage can and most likely will shed the peach fuzz and grow into a tour de force of an artist.
The thing about most artists is when they're young they look and sound just like their influences and don't really carve out their own unique vision. But at one point they blossom and come into their own, which is a wonderful sight. Bridges has traces of brilliance, but he doesn't sound like a star. But in the near future, when he comes into his own as an artist, we'll have the luxury of watching him shed his cocoon and bloom into it.
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