LIVE: LEON BRIDGES - SAN DIEGO
Leon Bridges with Lianne La Havas
Humphrey's Half Moon Inn, San Diego, CA - September 21, 2016
By Christina Ferraro
Before Leon Bridges’ quintessential album “Coming Home” even hit shelves, he was on my radar. My mom even recounts, “Remember when he only used to get 100 likes on Instagram? That’s when we started listening to him.” Now, he gets thousands of likes on a given photo, usually taken by Erin Rambo, a well-accomplished photographer who tours with him on a regular basis and has tastefully documented his rise to fame through the medium of black and white film photography.
The first time I saw Leon was at the Fonda, the autumn following his commercial success and I was blown away by his energy on stage. Besides having what his mother calls “a God-given talent” as a singer and songwriter, he has a gift for dancing as well and tore up the stage with his fancy footwork. At that show, he recounted how he met his backing vocalist, Brittini Jessie, on the set of a long forgotten music video, and how they were both skilled hip-hop dancers. I ended up seeing him again at the beginning of this year at the Wiltern with my mother, who claims to be his number one fan, initially falling in love with his old school soul sound and enamored by his tight-knit relationship with his mother.
We ended up inviting a good friend of ours: a photographer named Tina Treglia, who has been inspired lately by night time scenes, so we told her to bring her and her camera down to hang out on our balcony and have a cocktail by the bay.
As we were getting ready to have dinner, Leon and his band came on stage in matching terry-cloth robes from the hotel spa for rehearsal. As they began to rehearse a taste of what was to come of the evening, I grew more and more excited when I heard some of the new songs ahead of time. Soon, it was time for Lianne La Havas to perform, and, naturally, I had a Mai-Tai (what else does one drink at an authentic tiki-themed hotel?)
We listened to Lianne La Havas from our room’s balcony, and were pleasantly surprised by her performance. Nobody in our party had heard her music before, but she ended up putting on such a fantastic show. When I looked her up initially, I was surprised at how popular she was and thought, “How could she be opening for Leon? Shouldn’t he be opening for her?” She expertly pulled off a cover of Burt Bacharach’s song “Walk On By” (the Aretha Franklin’s version) and from then on I was hooked. Her voice is as powerful as it is beautiful, and I would highly recommend seeing her again if you get the opportunity. In between sets, she hung out around the merch table and I got to say hello as I purchased some Leon swag. Not only was she incredibly stylish, but she also had a fantastic personality: signing CDs and greeting fans with requests for selfies and kindly obliging. I’m bummed I wasn’t familiar with her work before, but now that I am, I eagerly look forward to her new releases and catching up on the older ones.
And now it was Leon’s turn: he came decked out in a vintage silky crimson shirt and navy dress slacks, sporting a pair of shades, looking cool as ever. He opened with “Smooth Sailin’” and, from the get go, was sliding across the stage in his shiny brown loafers. The whole show was watching him do cardio without missing a beat, even raising the tempo to B-side “Outta Line” to the point where the older audience was having trouble keeping up. He debuted the new song “Whole Lotta Woman” that was infectiously catchy and had the crowd clapping along. He slowed things down with “Pull Away” as if to take a break to catch his breath, only to speed it back up again, invigorating the crowd with a hype-up jam where he asks “San Diego – Do you got that juice?” getting everybody up off their feet for a little bit, followed by “Better Man” and “Brown Skin Girl” (both infused with a bit of pep).
The main trend of the night was to speed up the songs so the audience would become more engaged, but unfortunately, due to the make up of the crowd consisting of mostly retirees reminiscing of the good old days, it was hard to have them keep up. But that didn’t stop Leon from debuting more new music: from “Golden Room” to “Texas Sun” to “Lonely Road” to “Hold On”, all new songs inspired by his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. With hints of slide guitar and rhythms reminiscent to classic country hits, it was obvious that with this next album he wasn’t going to sell out and join the throwback ‘modern soul’ trend and loose his roots, but rather add his own Texas-styled flair on old school soul music. For “Lisa Sawyer” he dedicated it to his mom and the audience collectively took a seat and swayed along to the sweet ballad. He saved his classics for the end of the show, busting out “Flowers” and “Twistin’ and Groovin’” back to back, the crowd invited to stand back up and dance in the front row again before security asked them politely to sit back down for “Shine”, a beautiful gospel-style ballad that makes my mom cry every time.
Then it was time: as soon as Brit began to sing the opening Oohs of “Coming Home” the whole crowd came alive howling along, “Baby, Baby, Baby!” Leon had the crowd sing the chorus and even the boats that were anchored in the marina got a shout out from Leon to sing along. Before going into the encore, he ended his set with “River” another tearfully beautiful song where Leon strummed along on guitar and the crowd fell quiet, captivated by his voice. It would’ve been a very somber ending to such a high-energy show, but we all knew it wasn’t the end.
Some began to leave after his set, but they surely missed out: Leon came back out and sang “Pony” a cover originally by Ginuwine. It was a song that he remembered dancing to as a teen, thus prompting him to show off some of his signature moves from back then. He then played my favorite new song, “Pussyfootin’” that starts off as a shoulder-bouncing shuffle with a guitar hook reminiscent of “Suzy Q” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, set to the pace meant for the dancing crowdHe then ended with a double-time version of another B-side, “Mississippi Kisses”, where he invited the crowd to join him at the foot of the stage again for some dancing. He dove into the audience and ran back up the stage, with enough energy to think that this was the first song of the night, to finish the set. He even started a dance off, dividing the venue into 4 different spots “Left side, let me see you do your thing! Right side, let me see you do your thing!” and so on, ending the night on a very solid note, hyped up and ready for more.
After the show, I was told he was going to do a meet and greet and I was ecstatic, covered in sweat form dancing. My mom and Tina came down to take a picture of me and Leon, who had just changed into a set of overalls with a striped shirt underneath, and as it came to my turn, I told him “I love your new song with Nick Waterhouse, ‘Katchi’”** and he came in with a solid handshake and goes “That’s what I’m talkin’ about! That was such a fun night writing that song…” he trailed off as he saw a camera flash go and I told him how fantastic the show was and thanked him for a fun night. He was a genuinely humble guy, taking time to talk to each person that waited afterwards to see him and sign posters, CDs, and take pictures.
It’s amazing how one individual who has encountered this much fame at such an early stage in their career can still be such a genuinely nice person. I think all young artists should take note of him and learn to count their blessings and not take things for granted. I wish Leon all the best as his new album is set to come out next year and can’t wait to hear what he’s got next. All I have to say is yes, Leon’s definitely got the juice!
* my dad, John Ferraro, is a professional drummer. please, don't go to his horrifically outdated website and just trust me he’s played with a lot of famous people.
** a side note, Nick actually came out during the Fonda show and joined Leon on Mississippi Kisses as a surprise guest, and I may or may not have cried because Leon and Nick are my two favorite musicians.
Whole Lotta Woman*
Brown Skin Girl
Twistin’ and Groovin’
Pony (Ginuwine cover)
(* new tunes)