-- There was a moment during the triumphant homecoming performance from Leon Bridges Saturday night at a sold-out Majestic Theatre that neatly summed up the singer-songwriter’s singular talents and easygoing appeal. He asked everyone to say hello to the person next to them and give them a hug.
That’s an entreaty more likely to be encountered in church on Sunday morning than at a pop concert on Saturday night. But it’s perfectly fitting with the 26-year-old Fort Worth performer’s smooth retro R&B with its undercurrents of gospel and juke-joint soul, a genre -- much like his request to the audience -- that’s distinctly out of step with most of what else is out there these days.
Yet if all Bridges had going for him was nostalgia, he would just be a novelty act. Sure, he has the fascination with Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and early Marvin Gaye. Yes, he has the clothes and the look fit for a fashion spread. But he also possesses an expressive tenor voice and a flair for writing songs in a style from 40 years before he was born. It’s certainly no surprise then that, as he related Saturday night, his mother once told him, “Boy, you sound like an old man.”
But this “old man” can swing and he did that in an energetic 70-minute set that had far more grit and groove than his perhaps too-pristine debut album, Coming Home. Backed by a solid seven-piece band, Bridges even got the enthusiastic crowd standing and dancing for rockin’ takes on Better Man and Smooth Sailing, not necessarily the easiest feat in the rather formal confines of the Majestic. Special kudos to saxohone player Jeff Dazey for providing much of the musical heat.
Bridges also played several non-CD tracks, such as Lonely Road and the closing one-two punch of Daisy Mae and Mississippi Kisses, that show he’s not just a one-trick pony. If it were ever true, as the New York Times charged in a concert review in June, that Bridges’ style “is phantomlike and thin, bogged down by tentativeness and naïveté,” he has tossed off that persona of timidity and come up with something more full-blooded.
While this Majestic show -- his biggest area performance to date and one with lots of family and friends in attendance -- is the end of this leg of the tour, Bridges isn’t sitting on his laurels here at home. With the kind of year he has had -- becoming a must-see sensation at South by Southwest, releasing an acclaimed debut album -- no one would blame him if he did. He’s off on a world tour beginning in December that will take him to Australia, England, Canada, and much of the U.S.
In 2016, it seems that much of the globe will be partying like it’s 1962.