Gig Review by Zak Edwards with Photography by Bianca Barrett

On this most special of days, 100 years on, the country, festooned in poppies and everyone remembering those who had gone before us, it was fitting to see such a special artist as Mr Leon Bridges at Birmingham’s Institute.

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Having first seen the inimitable Mr Bridges back in 2015 at Manchester’s equally as salubrious Albert Hall, where he was dressed as a dapper 50’s Don – whom wouldn’t look out of place in the most elaborate episodes of Mad Men – I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to see the cooler than cool song meister ‘smooth salin’ his way on to the stage, channelling his inner Fresh Prince of Bel Air in a furry tiger print top and baggy trousers.

Clothing aside it was a very different singer-songwriter that greeted us in 2018 to the one we’d seen in Manchester; evidently more confident and seemingly more aware of his immense talent. Once timid, he owned the stage, rocking from one side of it to another with an array of dance moves Michael Jackson would be proud of. Maybe the clothes are merely a metaphor for his new found inner strength?

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Following on from the launch earlier in the year of his second album ‘Good Thing’ there’s an almost tangible progression from his 60’s soul persona. Don’t get me wrong, timeless classics like ‘Coming Home’ and ‘River’ were still expertly delivered to the appreciative crowd, but the ‘new stuff’ was like night and day in comparison. An amicable divorce if you like. A re-coupling.

‘If It Feels Good’, his first offering, strained every single sinew of the eight piece modern orchestra which featured two ridiculously talented guitarists and signalled the intent for the evening and also his reinvention. It was going to be a raucous stomp and everyone was invited.

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This theme continued through the show. Not to everyone’s liking, he even tinkered with his ‘staples’ from first album ‘Coming Home’. ‘Better Man’, the original version itself and upbeat romp, was thus exacerbated tenfold for example and was delivered in an even more uptempo fashion, complete with even more outlandish dance moves.

Intermissions akin to a smokey New Orleans’ Jazz Club were interspersed throughout the set to add to the ambience, but even with all this newfound showmanship, there was still time to talk of his roots. Proud to hail from Fort Worth, the softly spoken Texan cited how it was “still important” to incorporate the sound of his home into his art. Nowhere was this more apparent than with country ode ‘Hold On’ and the resplendent ‘Mrs’.

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The much anticipated encore feature a solo rendition of ‘River’ armed with only a guitar and his trusty vocal sidekick Brittni Jessie, and then an eight minute rendition of ‘Mississippi Kisses’. Splendid.

Having now seen him twice now it is clear to see the man will not be labelled as a one trick pony producing soulful 60’s ballads. Comparisons to Sam Cooke will obviously still be made, and will obviously be seen as an accolade, but the longer he goes on and the more experimental he becomes there’s no telling where this talented young man will find himself. Wherever that may be, Gig Junkies will always be watching with an admiring eye.

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