Leon Bridges plays the Arlington Theatre (March 18, 2016)
Paul Wellman

The first thing you notice is how he moves. Finer than fine, he glides across the stage, his loose arms by his side, then dips into a deep knee bend while up on his toes with his fingers snapping, chest open, arms up, his whole body popping and locking in a PhD worthy course on dance kinesiology. Leon Bridges mesmerizes the audience like a cobra as his soulful voice rings out in perfect timing and articulation that summons Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and even Nat King Cole. It doesn’t take long to realize Leon Bridges can do anything.

The young dapper Texan in vintage suit and polished shoes took the Arlington by storm along with a robust yet minimalist ensemble where every band member supported his well-groomed style with breakout musical performances. Never has a band clicked so flawlessly together. The enthusiastic audience was Santa Barbara at it’s most diverse — it seems that Bridges is beloved by listeners from all walks of life.

Some may call it retro — NeoSoul may be more accurate — but whatever you call it there is a pure clean hit of “get up on your feet and shake” that you will never resist. The band played all of Bridges hits; “Pussyfooting,” a “Wooly Bully” sound alike complete with it’s Tex Mex beat was infectious. It was such a throw back, it made you wonder why that song wasn’t written before. Bridges also played his classic sounding “A Better Man,” a post modern take on soul that sounds innovative and traditional at the same time. “Brown Skin Girl,” a jazzy love song to a young girl at a dance with white pearls around her neck, a polka dot dress and standing on the other side of the dance floor under the light of a white moon. Bridges may be the only singer around today who can sing the phrase “cutie pie” and be taken seriously.

Back up singer and duet partner Brittni Jessi, was as sharp and stylish as could be with bleached, short cut hair while wearing a high-necked sleeveless black dress and heels. Sometimes her voice and the saxophonist and guitarist blended so smoothly it was almost impossible to figure out where the music was coming from.

Leon Bridges’ kaleidoscopic perfect encapsulation of soul and beatific gospel summons a lost America, smiling and nostalgic, where blacks and whites danced to the hottest music in the land — 1963. It’s the year that threads its way through his music. As his stand out song “Lisa Sawyer” points out, his mother was born in 1963. The song over flows with too many words, too many for a pop song, more rightly testimony put to music. “She at the age of sixteen, she found Christ at an altar, all along he was calling her name, the gospel spoken from an old wrinkly man.” It’s Leon Bridges capacity to break the deeply held genres he performs in that renews and refreshes his take on soul music and points the way where this original talent might go in the future.


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