On a very rainy Minnesota night, I was looking forward to seeing Leon Bridges on his first sold-out night of his stay at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. I’ve been an enormous fan of Bridges’ since I heard “River” off of his album debut album Coming Home. In May, he released his sophomore album, Good Thing, and is currently touring in support of the record.
As I entered the very packed Palace Theatre, KhruangBin was halfway into their set that included a lot of very funky rap covers. KhruangBin is very much a psychedelia band. The band is currently touring behind the release of their sophomore album, Con Todo El Mundo, a nod to female singer Laura Lee’s Mexican-American Grandfather.
Mark Speer hammers home killer guitar riffs, as Donald “DJ” Johnson effortlessly keeps the band ticking in the back with a wide variety of beats and tempos on drums. They come from Texas and bring a sound that takes you to another world.
As KhruangBin’s banner comes down, it reveals a very massive “LB” neon sign, the crowd is itching with anticipation. As the room darkens, the bands starts up and Leon enters like one cool cat. He has an immensely beautiful presence.
Leon dislikes staying still, he has to move. He has this wonderful old school, 1940’s hair that reminds me of a Nat King Cole album cover and the voice of James Brown. He lets his band speak for themselves and, from time to time, will stand near the drum kit and let the group take center stage. It’s about the music.
Leon transitions well from his older, acoustic, slower songs to his new more upbeat ones. More funky. This is accentuated by his explosive rose accented jacket and salmon (velour) pants. The band has neon accent lights that make the vibe feel like a music segment on the Johnny Carson show. He has two back up singers, and a 5 piece band to back him up.
It’s no surprise, with an incredible voice, moves, and talented backing band, that Bridges would sell out both nights, even at a higher than normal price point ($62 for GA). Hopefully you were lucky enough to grab a ticket.
The crowd loved every moment of it, cheering along, singing along, dancing along. “You can just move your shoulders if you don’t have any room,” Leon says to the cheering crowd. He is not a man to stay still, moving effortlessly around the stage like a rose covered, velvet cloud of beauty. Near the middle of his set, he moved his bedazzled mic stand off to the side and clutches his, also bedazzled, microphone.
Then he got really soulful, very bluesy, threw in some southern twang. “Hold on.” He has such a beautiful range in his music you really get a little of everything. Especially when he jumps into a more poppy version of “Brown Skin Girl,” a classic of Bridges’. After another up and down with the tempo and finishing his set on “Flowers,” Leon comes back with two encores. “River” (for which he strapped on a guitar and duets with his female backup) and “Mississippi Kisses,” much to the delight of everyone.
Going through this emotional roller coaster with Leon was a beautiful experience. You really feel his music seep into your body like good tea. The twangs of the guitar, the highs and lows of his voice, the best of the drum. It’s intoxicating. The tempo shifts dramatically but it’s because Leon effortlessly gives you both ends of the spectrum. You dance along with the highs, you sway and weep with the lows. It was powerful. Beg, borrow, or steal a ticket to his last night tonight at the St. Paul Palace Theater.
1) If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)
2) Bad Bad News
3) Better Man
5) Coming Home
8) Georgia to Texas
9) Forgive You
11) You Don’t Know
12) Lisa Sawyer
13) Hold On
14) Brown Skin Girl
16) Smooth Sailin’ Flowers
19) Mississippi Kisses