Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Would you pay $250 (or more, if rumors are to be believed) to see Leon Bridges? That was the question that fans who didn't have tickets had to ask themselves if they wanted to see the Fort Worth singer play in his hometown on Saturday night. As I found out later, after I’d bypassed the throng queuing along 4th St. outside Scat Jazz Lounge, some people had paid exorbitant after-market prices for a ticket to one of the 25-year-old throwback R&B singer’s two sold-out shows. And apparently a lot of those tickets were fake.
Because of the counterfeit tickets, the first show’s 7 p.m. start time was pushed back 30 minutes, but even then, the room was maybe two-thirds full for Bridges' set with his eight-piece backing band. It seems that the actual ticket retailer (Tickets to the City is who usually sells seats to shows at Scat) had sold the room’s seated capacity, not realizing that Scat’s staff were going to remove the tables to accommodate more fans.
By the time the later 10 p.m. show rolled around, this mess was mostly cleaned up. Legit ticket or no, most everyone who wanted to see him got to. Bridges even advertised on his personal Facebook page that tickets to the second show were available at the door for a mere $20.
During that first show, the space between the crowd and the bar was big enough to park a car in — maybe not a Fairlane or Studebaker or whatever enormous vintage automobile that properly accessorizes Bridges’ reverse-engineered ’60s soul vibe is, but probably an Accord or perhaps even a Camry. And the irony of a sold-out show with a lot of empty space wasn’t lost on many. Bridges didn’t appear to notice, though, taking photos with fans, chatting with his band and entourage and hanging out with his mom in the roped-off VIP section to the side of stage left.
When he finally did take the stage, Bridges' greeting sounded a little nervous, but then they launched into “Better Man” and the nerves seemed to disappear into the shadows of the Scat’s moody ambience. Few people will assail Bridges’ pipes (or anything about his brand, for that matter), but his hesitant stage presence is a typical criticism. Talking to the crowd is still not his strong suit, but when he keeps it short and can jump into a song quickly, the onstage energy hardly falters.
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The past year of constant gigging and photoshoots in front of many, many people has noticeably upped Bridges' confidence. Standing beneath the stage lights, clad in a tux, his head bobbing and dipping behind the mic, he looked every bit the star his Instagram and ad placements are making him out to be. As soon as a song kicked in, he fell into the role, digging deep and belting out the tracks on his debut album, plus a cover of a Lauryn Hill song (“Ex-Factor”, I think) retro-fitted with the bounce of vintage soul.
Still, there was an awkward sense of space in the room, conspicuously highlighted by the lights shining behind the bar. The crowd was enthusiastic, with most people at the front of the stage dancing, but the groove seemed to dissipate beyond that first inner row. I couldn't help but wonder if playing in his hometown was easier or harder for him than taking the stage in London or Chicago or wherever else his travels have taken him.
Bridges and his band were done after about an hour; 20 minutes later, the crowd to see the 10 p.m. show began to file in. Merely by the virtue of a greater headcount, I could tell the second show would be the one to see. But this later crowd — younger, sexier, probably drunker — was ready to party, and the vibe seemed to make Bridges visibly relax. His greeting and set, basically the same as the previous show, seemed to shed its predecessor’s careful cadence. Perhaps he and the band members got some drinks in between?
I know I did. When Leon and his band fired up “Brown Skin Girl” for a second time that night, instead of rolling my eyes like the song normally makes me do, it made me dance a little. Well, that and a bunch of bourbon, anyway. But the crowd ate it up hungrily, abandoning the fetters of decorum and shaking their hips. Where the early show, both in its audience and Bridges’ performance, had a certain stiff respectfulness to it, the later one was legitimately fun — perhaps even to people who paid $250 for the privilege.