been | Leon Bridges and the Texas Gentlemen – St. James Theatre

If you haven’t heard of Mr Bridges, you’re going to. The 26 year old Texan has been rapidly gaining attention since the release of his debut album, Coming Home, in June last year – and for good reason. ‘The kid,’ as backup singer Brittni Jessie calls him, is not just extremely talented, but refreshingly unique.

Blending raw soul and gospel with doo-wop and urban blues, Bridges’ sound takes you back to a time when music was about just that – music. With a nod to the great African American musicians of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Bridges’ style remains consistently ‘oldschool.’ Each number invokes a sort of nostalgia in the listener, a longing for a different time when things were more authentic. In keeping with the feel of his music, Bridges’ dress and mannerisms herald those of decades past. A single glance at his Instagram confirms this: monochrome photos of Bridges wearing trousers and collared shirts reveal a true dedication to his style and sound.

Ending his world tour in Auckland on January 9th, there’s no surprise that Bridges chose the St James as his venue. The historic building was a perfect match for an artist who has been hailed as a contemporary Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. When they arrived on stage Bridges and his seven-piece band, all immaculately dressed in fine suits, showed the crowd what a real concert should be like. There were no flashy sets, no costume changes and no awe-inspiring light displays. Bridges and The Texas Gentlemen simply played, filling the room with an energy and passion you really needed to be there to understand.

After an introductory song, Bridges proudly announced, in a purposefully Southern accent: “we are from Fort Worth Texas, and we rode in on our horses.” He then proceeded to play the entire Coming Home album, as well as a handful of new numbers. This was a foot-stomping, finger-clicking get-down-and-do-the-twist concert – everywhere you looked, people were dancing. While every song was amazing, there were of course highlights. The upbeat melody Twisting and Grooving, written about Bridges’ grandparents, was an instant mood-setter, as were new songs Let You Down and Mississippi Kisses. Bridges didn’t lose any power by slowing things down, however. The crooning number In My Arms was like something straight out of a 1950s dance party, while the rich, gospel song River was the climax of the show.

Ultimately, Bridges is well-worth going to see. And while he is clearly the star of the show, his band also has to be acknowledged. Without the amazing talents of saxophonist Jeff Dazey, who Bridges professed “has been with me right from the start,” and the flawless backup vocals of Brittni Jesse, the music would have quite a different sound.

A passion for real music is what immediately hits you upon hearing or seeing Leon Bridges and the Texas Gentlemen. Not one to let things go to his head, Bridges waited in the St. James foyer after the concert to take photos with fans and sign posters in an informal meet and greet. Did I meet him? Of course. He was soft-spoken and polite as he signed my poster with a quote from the album’s title song. More than that, he was appreciative. “Nice to meet you man,” he told my boyfriend. “Thank you.” Thank you, Leon, for giving us something to look forward to in the music world.