It’s fairly early on during Leon Bridges’ first night at Brixton Academy, and he’s closing recent single ‘Bad Bad News’ with an extended dance exhibition, accompanying drawn out percussion and guitar twiddling. As he moves across the Academy’s stage, raising early concerns he might actually manage to run out of room, it’s apparent how much Leon Bridges has grown into himself since his debut three years ago.
Then, it seemed fairly straightforward to file his honeyed, country-tinged compositions alongside all sorts of other R&B inspired singer-songwriters. But on the Brixton Academy stage, he’s positively bursting with energy and has clearly developed a sense of spectacle and gravitas. During songs like ‘Better Man’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’ this showmanship and Bridges’ innate knack for inciting collective cathartic emotional outpouring come together and act on the audience with tremendous effect, leaving everyone feeling vigorously rejuvenated.
He’s at his very best, though, at those points at which he scoops the crowd up in heartfelt tenderness, his best-loved songs becoming laid-back, soulful anthems. ‘Coming Home’ sparks a tremendous sense of togetherness in the audience, both thanks to its familiarity and the sincerity with which it’s delivered. ‘Forgive You’ and ‘Beyond’ likewise seem further moments where Bridges lays himself bare from the stage, his authenticity shinning through the stage-stalking and body-popping, to an increasingly appreciative audience.
Between the songs he talks about romance – romances he’s had, romances his audience might be currently caught in – and it’s a reminder of the endearing frankness that made him such a compelling prospect when he first surfaced. There’s also plenty of talk about energy – does the audience have it? How can Bridges transfer some of it to them? And while it’s encouraging to see him convincingly, for the most part, fill the Academy with his presence, it’s nonetheless a little hard not to feel a little jealous of the crowd at the more intimate Under The Bridge back in 2016.
Admittedly, it’s not quite a flawless evening. While Bridges has clearly developed his stage approach brilliantly, the Academy noise isn’t necessarily a boon at all times. During more drawn out, or less familiar, numbers audience chatter bubbles over and dampens the performance’s impact. But Bridges is hardly the first, or the biggest, act to suffer from these particular aspects of this particular venue.
Impressively, Bridges is prepared with a reply for every unexpected lull, bringing the audience back into his story once again. And by the time he started to wind things down with ‘River’, the whole room felt entirely committed.