Leon Bridges @ o2 Institute, 11 November 2018

Leon Bridges is a performer whose artistry and popularity owes much to the stylistic and musical constraints he imposes on himself. Despite that, it’s when his voice cuts free and stands for itself – often supported by minimalist background arrangements – that he reaches heights that have seen him compared with key influences like Sam Cooke and Arthur Alexander. 

Sharply dressed as ever, his set at the O2 Institute on Sunday night opened with exuberant performances of ‘If It Feels Good’ and ‘Bad Bad News,’ both showcasing tight soul drumming and dance moves that might have graced Wigan Pier. Bridges knows he can lift a crowd with his energetic performance of uptempo, old school soul, and deploys moments like these throughout the evening. 

He energises the room with Forgive You midway through the night and by his own admission reaches for – and receives – a crowd response with ‘Smooth Sailing’ and ‘Flowers’ at the close.

The real highlights, though, are the moments where Bridges voice alone does the heavy lifting. ‘Beyond,’ in the first third of the set, hints at what’s to come, and that promise is realised a couple of songs later as the sparse backing to ‘Georgia to Texas’ gives Bridges voice the space it needs to shine. 

Later, a guitar solo of mellow and melancholy smokiness brings ‘Mrs’ to a close, offsetting the polished vocal perfectly. These more intimate moments culminate in a poised encore: Bridges on the guitar, accompanied by one backing singer and some understated keys holds the room, with the gospel influenced ‘River,’ the audience singing along. 

There are flatter moments during the evening, but Bridges paces his set well enough to ensure that these never last long, skilfully alternating between the upbeat and the more downtempo, in turns moving the audience to dance, then holding them spellbound. 

The overall impression is of an artist who’s increasingly accomplished and confident within his genre now beginning to spread his wings to powerful effect.

Reviewer: Sharon Green 

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