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Leon Bridges at the Enmore Theatre

Leon Bridges at Speldour in the Grass 2016
Photograph: Ian Laidlaw; Splendour in the Grass

A five star show from the new king of soul

The charming soul singer Leon Bridges has come a long way in 18 months. He has gone from a little known crooner to being featured in the New York Times, supporting Pharrell and adding a Grammy nomination to his list of recent achievements. And when he played his Splendour sideshow on Thursday night he had the entire Enmore Theatre in his hand.

Ngaiire, Bridges’ only support act, took care of the warm up as crowds shuffled in, playing a set from her second album Blastoma. The former support vocalist for Blue King Brown and Chet Faker masterfully shared the limelight with her band and backup singers in front of a hometown crowd.

Bridges sure knows how to make an entrance, strolling on stage in an all-white tie, shirt and jacket combo to the saxophone line from ‘Smooth Sailin’. Leon Bridges’ makes his era-free edition of cool look truly effortless. Bridges is a man out of time, or across time. The energy of his performance makes you feel like you could be watching a pre-scandal Jerry Lee Lewis on the Steve Allan Show, with Bridges bopping and gyrating around the stage to the upbeat ‘Outta Line’ and straight into ‘There She Goes’. But he knows when to drawn it back. The lights dim and the high in the room subsides for ‘Pull Away’.

The audience cheered on his soulful rendition of ‘Better Man’ before things got romantic for ‘Texas Sun’ and ‘Brown Skin Girl’. Bridges croons that he is “just trying to make some love tonight” and Sydney is his willing paramour. And how can you not like a man who writes a song like ‘Lisa Sawyer’ about his mother.

Bridges then “takes it to church” for a gospel-inflected ‘Shine’, and delivers a fatal shot to hearts and minds with a truly spectacular acoustic performance of ‘River’. Before our hearts broke entirely, a cover of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ lightened the mood. Then, he brought it all home with ‘Coming Home’, the title song off of his album, and ‘Mississippi Kisses’.

Is Leon Bridges an old soul in a young body? His boyish humour and charisma betray his age but his retro sound and accomplished vocal performances put him alongside Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, more than any artist this century.

By Gilbert Walden and Emily Lloyd-Tait

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