The shaky frame of The Paramount Theatre was not ready for the funk Leon Bridges was laying down this past Wednesday night. Everything from the velvet seats cushioning your back to the swagger and excitement emblazoned on each band member’s face transported you back to the soulful era of our past. Bridge’s oversized collars jutting out to his shoulders and suit pants resting above his bellybutton were just the cherry on top of a 1960’s New Orlean’s dream.
Since the debut of his first album Coming Home which was immediately embraced by the masses as a fusion-jazz cult classic, Leon has been on tour catering to the demands of cities from east to west. With Bridge’s spring tour throughout North America being his largest headlining tour to date. Due to the pandemonium surrounding each performance we think it only heralds more of what’s yet to come for the Texas bred soul singer.
The Paramount was greeted by RnB experimentalist Solo Wood prior to Bridge’s performance. Many did not know how to react to the rhythm of the bongo drums accompanied with distorted electric guitar and manic, soulful vocals emanating from the duo. But Wood’s unbuttoned blouse, coy smile and buttery voice lulled us into the night on a new age RnB cloud. At times the performance ranged from smooth, soulful, romantic tempos but then quickly escalated to hyper electric guitar and falsetto vocalism. A truly unique and thought provoking performance - something we would not have expected to experience at a Leon Bridges show, but something we are definitely glad that we did.
It did not take more than a minute after the lights dimmed and the first note danced out of Bridge’s mouth to bring the audience up out of their chairs. A sort of taboo act given the pastoral atmosphere that surrounds the Paramount. Despite the unwritten rules of sitting in sequestered silence, the audience raised their metaphorical middle fingers high in the air and danced and swayed to the sweet euphony emanating from center stage. The buoyant and jazz centric harmonies had even the smuggest of audience members up and singing along. Opening with the saxophone heavy crowd favorite, Smooth Sailin’ set the tone for what was to be a amazing evening, complete with swooning ladies and a zoetic performance by Bridges.
In between songs the soulful lead of the 7 piece would sermonize about calling your mother and his expeditious rise to fame. Coyly introducing Coming Home as a “little song that he wrote in 2012 that changed his life forever” he held a humble yet confident stage presence. Throughout his 16 song set he played the crowd favorites and teased us with new doo-wopish dance numbers from what we’re all hoping will be tracks off a new 2016 release. During his performance Bridges traipsed the line of 1960’s heart throb and 2016 “cool-kid” so carelessly that it transcended time and societal normalities. Each time we see Bridges live we are left in awe of his idiosyncratic stage presence and ability to turn each show into a unique personal experience.
Although Bridges played for a little over two hours, when the spotlight evaporated and the fog smoke cleared no one was ready to let him leave the Mile High City. And to our good fortune, neither was he. Bridges ended his stint in Denver with a bluesy and gospel like rendition of River with talented back up singer, Brittni Jessie. The Paramount stood in silent disbelief as we took it all in as one breathing, sentient being. The silence after the song was quickly filled as Bridges began introducing his band members, pausing briefly to look to the side of the stage at a familiar bearded face. And to the bemusement of everyone involved out walked Nathaniel Ratefliff and acclaimed Denver horn blower, Wesley Watkins. Together they coalesced into one giant blues band jamming out in their parents garage after school - a fangirl inducing sight for even the macho-est of audience members.
Although only equipped with one album, each time we see Bridges it is a truly unique and metamorphic experience. A true testament to his unwavering talent as a multidimensional performer. Wednesday night will not soon be forgotten - but we wouldn’t mind if Bridges came back soon to jog our memory.
Words - McClain Morris // Photos - Robert Castro