Leon Bridges Massey Hall, Toronto ON, March 10
Published Mar 11, 2016"I wrote this song. Showed it to my mother. Said, 'What you think about this?' She said, 'Boy, you sound like an old man.'"
Leon Bridges related this tale to a sold out/souled out Massey Hall audience last night (March 10) before launching into "Shine," just one slice of tender wisdom carved from his sparkling Coming Home long-player. But he could have been discussing just about any track he's laid to wax. Born Todd Bridges but adopting a stage name for obvious reasons, the hurtling star is 26 going on 66.
An hour before taking Massey's storied stage, the son of Fort Worth, Texas Instagrammed a photo of the venue's Charlie Parker poster, one of the many legends who paved his way. Stacks of hand-signed copies of Bridges' debut LP (35 bucks a pop) were all scooped up before the opener, Son Little, even began his set.
Bathed in a golden light, Bridges and his airtight, six-piece band cruised us back to a shinier, purer time. Clean faces, clean suits, clean lyrics and 45-ready songs that regularly clock in at less than three minutes long. "Smooth Sailing" wasn't just the band's introductory tune; it was a statement of the performance.
As he grooved around the stage in sharp, slick dance moves, Bridges delivered essentially every joint from his one album, and then some. The surf-y "Outta Line" from Home's deluxe edition rocked like Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," and "There She Goes" warmed like a Sunday night bath. Though the crowd sat stiffly and clapped politely during Son Little's excellent swampy-blues undercard set, a little prompting from the headliner loosened the room up.
"This is rock'n'roll and soul," Bridges reminded after his first three tunes. "Don't be scared up in here." Finally, the party people lift off the pews and onto their feet. As Bridges oscillated easily between uptempo shakers ("Twistin' & Groovin'," "Flowers") and slow-dance gold ("Lisa Sawyer"), it occurred to me that he's the only contemporary artist making legit first-dance wedding songs these days.
"I'm always on the road, but I'm always writing," he said, before cueing up a couple of exclusive treats: new, unreleased songs "Hold On" and "Let You Down," which were wonderful — the way kisses taste in dreams, to steal a lyric.
After closing his hour with the pristine "River," Bridges and the band were yanked back by full applause. And for an encore? A cover of Neil Young's "Helpless." Gold.