Leon Bridges at the Santa Barbara Bowl | Credit: Matt Perko

Clouds speckled a pastel pink sky and a full moon rose over the Santa Barbara Bowl as couples, friends, and fans settled in for a night of “smooth sailing” with Leon Bridges. But before the audience could get too cozy in their seats, Swedish electronic band Little Dragon raised the energy level and had the crowd on its feet with a confident, neon-lit, mood-boosting set.

After a brief break, Bridges and his incredibly talented band hit the stage in true retro soul style. Brittni Jessie, who duets with him on the dreamy “River,” donned unmistakably bold red bell-bottoms, and Bridges gracefully snaked through the stage in a bedazzled jumpsuit. As the large band hit every note on their Rhodes keyboards or Fender Telecaster with meticulous precision, the audience leaned into the experience of being transported to another era of Temptations-like tightness.

The band covered the spectrum of Bridges’s collection, including hits like the sultry “Motorbike” from his Grammy-nominated third studio album Gold-Diggers Sound. The greatest applause seemed to come when Bridges launched into his catchy collaboration with the band Khruangbin, “Texas Sun,” as well as the sweet wedding dance favorite “Beyond.” Bridges did a nice job of mixing in more tender ballads with groovy R&B hits like “Smooth Sailing” and “Brown-Skin Girl,” his backup dancers swaying in perfect time.  

But the song that most cut to the soul of Leon’s sound was the breakout track “Coming Home.” When the backup singers delicately began crooning their “oohs” and Bridges ushered in his first smooth-as-butter “Baby…,” I was reminded of why he catapulted to success in 2015. Though the radiant moon, gold lighting, and sparkly outfit certainly provided ambiance, Bridges’s timeless talent, luscious sound, and candy-like vocals shone brighter than any accoutrements could provide.


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