Photo by Matt Nestor
Hanging at the merchandise table was a T-shirt, declarative and classifying, with black letters on plain white spelling out: I AM R AND B. Less a boast, more an opportunity to wear a piece of the zeitgeist surrounding its inspiration, when the curtain of the Fonda Theatre lifted for the second of two sold-out performances, there was its catalyst- dapper, thin, and still. With background vocalist Brittni Jesse to his right, the voice of today’s rhythm and blues unfolded slowly an opening homage to his grandmother Doris, hushing the buzzing hipsters. Leon Bridges had arrived.
His twin-guitar, five-piece band filtered in behind him, lighting up the jittering “Flowers.” After “Brown Skin Girl”, the singer out of Fort Worth, Texas paused. “Nice to meet you,” he offered with a smile. Neo-retro numbers rattled off one after the next, a soundtrack to Saturday night for sweethearts snuggling in a ’57 Chevy or cutting a rug down at the dancehall. Most of the repertoire emanated from Bridges snowballing debut, Coming Home, his supporting of which will have him on the road indefinitely- even on this night his tour schedule lists a two-show return to Los Angeles in March of 2016 at the slightly-larger Wiltern.
Bridges asked the crowd to turn to the person next to them, tell them you love them, and give them a hug. (Someone in the capacity crush was lucky enough to get an embrace from actress Pamela Anderson, spotted grooving at the soundboard). Loose, feel-good gestures aside, Bridges and his ensemble were lock-tight and crackling, as polished and pressed as their suits, with little time for anything but the music. Only late into the set did he allow himself a breather to introduce the group (which includes White Denim’s Austin Jenkins and Josh Block), to an audience packed with back-home family and friends, and reflect on the amazement of the year that was. Bridges closed as he began, with another duet, this one the chilling “River,” before a thumping, three-song encore that culminated in an escalating and extended “Mississippi Kisses.”
Even with this rocket-ship climb into stardom, Leon Bridges hasn’t forsaken the value of connection. Theatre staff swept the floors. Crew loaded the gear into cases. At the merchandise table, he stood for nearly as long as he had performed, taking every photo, signing every scrap, appreciating every kind word from every person that waited to meet and greet the voice of R&B.