Leon Bridges is one of the “great stories in music over the past year,” Marty Lennartz said while introducing the singer and his band last Friday at the Bottom Lounge for a Studio X show. Though for Bridges, his success story is quite simple: “I wanted to stop washing dishes and help my mother out,” the singer said. That modest, humbled demeanor largely shapes who Bridges is both personally and professionally. While performing and answering questions during the Q&A portion of the show, Bridges’ rarely smiled — he has a great poker face, aside from the occasional twinkle in his eyes upon mention of Sam Cooke or his thrifted wardrobe. However, what doesn’t come across via facial expressions pours out of his soul once he sings, and any stories withheld during the Q&A are spun out in song form. On “Twistin’ & Groovin,’” one of his more up-tempo tracks sang with some husk, he recounts the tale of how his grandparents met, for example.
In addition to his slick vocals and spruce style — “I just like to look good,” Bridges said — he has the moves to match. He made the most of the rather small stage, often gesturing with his hands, swaying in place, and letting loose on “Outta Line” (off the deluxe version of his debut record Coming Home), appealing to the crowd’s sight with his dancing as the lengthy sax solo entertained their ears. Bridges also performed “Daisy Mae” off the deluxe album, while the rest of the set included fan favorites such as “Smooth Sailin’” and title track “Coming Home.” And just when it seemed as though the show was ending, Bridges and his band huddled together to quickly decide on one final song, treating everyone to an unexpected encore with “Better Man.”
Bridges encompasses the qualities of classic R&B greats like Buddy Guy (whom he recently met) and one of his icons Sam Cooke, among others. The way in which Bridges weaves the past into his present is what enables him to feel familiar yet new. So though he had a breakout year from performing on Saturday Night Live to receiving a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album, Bridges’ story is still being written. Thank goodness for that.