SYN Reviews: Leon Bridges – Forum Theatre, 25th April 2018
March 25th 2018
Forum Theatre Melbourne
Words by Rebecca Maakasa
Tickets provided by publicists.
A mild autumn day quickly turns into a drizzly Melbourne night as the crowd takes shelter in the animated Forum Theatre. To an already full house, Thando and her lively duo band, immediately set the mood – brassy, bold and ready to groove. They were a warm and welcoming presence – just what everyone wanted as they got out of the rain. Vocalist, Thando Sikwila had an unmissable vocal command, similar to Beyoncé and Adele. Zimbabwean born but now based in Australia, Thando complimented the old-school style of Leon Bridges and lifted everyone’s literally damp spirits. In her own way, Thando seems to be bringing more of this uplifting style to be more prevalent in the Australian music scene.
Leon Bridges, hailing from Texas, USA has clearly made many fans ‘Downunder’, despite being rarely travelled prior to his music taking off. With an obvious respect to his band, Bridges follows them, entering the stage in an unmissable orange shirt ensemble – ‘Smooth Salin’ – showcases the bands teamwork from the get-go. A recognisable favourite. In its Ancient Grecian style, The Forum was transformed to feel as we were taken back to the 1950s, the set design had little theatrics, to which we have become accustomed. It was rather stripped back and let the large band orchestrate and be the centre of attention. We’re not in Melbourne anymore, but the heart of soul.
The first threes songs acted more as interlude where the crowd was drawn in. There was lot lots of call and shouts and the crowd thrived off this interaction. Following a more gentle track Bridges would then pick it up again, calling out “Has Melbourne got the juice?” An improvised section as Bridges paced along the stage picking up a wave of momentum. Before the first bar of ‘Brown Skinned Girl’ Bridges earned some “whooos!” and “ahhhs”. Penny Jackson’s backing vocals lifted the stellar ‘Comin Home’ even higher. As I turn to my left, even the bar staff and security are singing along as they work. I am envious that the bar staff have significantly more room than the rest of of us to shimmy and sway.
Bridges set seemed faster in a transformed live environment, granted the mixing on the album is heavily crafted to resemble an old, wavering and realistic 60s sound. As the set progressed, it became clear that Bridges might still be tweaking his approach. With only one album up his sleeve, and another set for release, this will only become more sleek in time and I am certain many more Aussies will return to see him live again. The set interestingly seemed document how a person may experience love and relationships – the falling, the break up and the hope of falling in love again.
The pace is brought down again but that’s not a bad thing, before a unified and somewhat sombre rendition of ‘River’. This highlighted Bridges and Jackson’s vocals by isolating them, without the presence of the band. The only frustration here was I picked a bad spot up the back, more people chatter in between, and shout over the bar and it’s a bit distracting. Next time I will definitely be there earlier.
The encore is the the only time phones come out. This was odd for me to witness, because we’ve become so accustomed to recording on our phones. This is a testament to the command of Bridge’s presence. Everyone was captivated by Bridges, and that is hard for performers to do these days with our constant phone distractions. This was enhanced further by his moves on stage and giving his full self to the songs. He lingers and looks up thoughtfully and I am momentarily distracted by the 1000s of heads bobbing in a purple light.
Bridges talks to the audience in minimal amounts, but engages us in an energetic call out to show him “what we’ve got!” and literally sings his praises for the audience. I only wished this was at the start of the show, because the energy was there earlier, waiting to be stirred. In an odd way, Bridges’style feels really modern in a live setting. At this point I was only wishing there was more room to dance!
It’s clear Melbourne is open to all styles and venues like The Forum provide that space for it to be enjoyed. We might not be able to know the roots of the soul and gospel style, but in true Melbourne fashion it was embraced as a style with an emerging following – evident in the sold out Sunday night crowd for both acts. The warmed crowd surely will await his return.
Leon Bridges forthcoming album “Good Thing” is set for release May 4th.