Last night at First Avenue, Leon Bridges’s vocals soared over the heads of a sold-out crowd. In the midst of a tour promoting the release of his summer 2015 debut album Coming Home, Bridges made a visually spectacular entrance. Turning his back to the crowd, he adjusted his guitar as shafts of sapphire light illuminated his silhouette.
“How ya’ll doing? Nice to meet you,” he said, turning around to reveal the crisp, dapper suit I’d expected to see after reading so much about his fittingly vintage style.
Bridges took me by surprise with his choice of opening song—seconds into the chorus of “Doris,” I realized I had expected him to begin with an uptempo number. My wish was granted, however, as soon as the band fearlessly plunged into a rousing rendition of “Flowers.” I would’ve gladly swung to it if I’d only had a partner and enough foot room.
With the help of supporting vocalist Brittni Jessie and a band that included an organ, saxophone, and tambourine alongside drums and guitars, Bridges brought us all back in time. The intoxicating blend of 1960s soul and 1950s doo-wop in songs like “Smooth Sailin’” and the hit “Better Man” made me nostalgic for a time I’ve never lived in, but grateful that Bridges brought that era to 2015 on the First Avenue stage.
Bridges often closed his eyes with arms outstretched, swaying his body from side to side as he sang songs with recurring themes of love, heartbreak, and family ties. Hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, the 26-year-old seemed to know just how to bring a room full of complete strangers together.
“Turn to your neighbor,” he said. “Say, ‘Neighbor, I love you,’ and give them a hug.” The man to my left laughed and turned to me. “Why not?” he said. The crowd then sang “Coming Home” in unison. Judging by all the smiles around me, I wasn’t the only one who experienced a shift in mood.
Before Bridges and his band returned to the stage for an encore, he reminded his own neighbors how he felt about them by thanking the crowd for their support. “I love each and every one of you,” he said. “I’m serious about that.”
Bridges’s opener was Columbian-born, Virginia-based newcomer Kali Uchis, whose smooth, jazzy voice and finger snaps accompanied a set of songs blending hip-hop, soul, and pop influences. Swinging her hips to the infectious groove of her backing band, the 22-year-old singer sported a retro look complementing lyrics that seemed to range from self-assured to sweet.
“Can you take this chance on me? You won’t regret it, come and get it,” Uchis promised in a performance of “Lottery” from her recently released EP, Por Vida. “You don’t gotta listen,” she sang, but the audience certainly did.
Madeleine Hamilton is a student at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.