If Leon Bridges is the future of soul men then somewhere Marvin Gaye is Shaking his head and Teddy Pendergrass is looking at his watch. The blandness on view at Radio City Music Hall was lethal. It started with the opening act, the awful decision to throw Houston, Texas instrumental trio Khruangbin to the masses bordered on band abuse. Khruangbin weren’t bad, the surf band channelled the 1970s Raybeats and Laura Lee knew her George Scott II, late in the evening the band threw in a fun “Telstar”, and considering the venue, and the dreamy strummy guitar based bands limitations, Khruangbin were believable but awful boring. 45 minutes and by the end it felt like sadism.
Leon made so many mistakes at Radio City but first and foremost: he didn’t have close circuit television, it is 2018 and there is zero excuse for not letting your audience, who are paying big bucks for the experience, actually, you know, see you. I was in 1st mezz, undoubtedly those in 2nd and 3rd mezz were watching ants in the distance. It is not impossible to connect to an audience from a great distance, I saw Marvin Gaye do just that at the same veue in early 1983. But Leon isn’t Marvin Gaye, hell, he isn’t Marvin Hamlisch.
There is a corollary to the Pitchfork-M.I.A. rule. The PM rule states that if Pitchfork truly hate an artist the chances are excellent there is a reason that has nothing to do with music. The corollary goes that if Bob Lefsetz really loves an artist there is an excellent chance some industry type sucked him off. Here is Lefsetz on Leon at the Greek: “You would have been awed if you’d been there. Most of the people knew all the words. And this was not a heritage act. Leon held the mic out to the crowd and…they sang along. He’s infiltrated the minds of those who care, and those who don’t… Actually, Leon Bridges is a mini Adele, minus the slickness, minus the big push. And maybe minus her pipes, but Leon’s are certainly serviceable.” Yeah, repeat no.
What was clear Friday night was that Leon doesn’t have a great voice and he doesn’t have many great songs. Sure, he has some. An early “Beyond” was beyond serviceable and the ever popular “Going Home” was a crowd pleaser. A later “Smooth Sailin'” had Leon dancing, and whenever Leon danced the show improved, the Fort Worth native is no James Brown but he can shimmy and shake. Still, Leon isn’t a good frontman, his spiel is too spieler, all that “Make some noise” crap and boilerplate concert speak is irritating, even though the band is good, especially the stand up bass player (who received a solo for no reason I can discern). The soul stuff wasn
t song enough,, the jazz stuff was boring, the funk jams stank, and Leon has no clue how to connect from a distance. Yes, “Beyond” is a great song… then what?
The white and middle class and 20somethings with their parents audience seemed to like it without loving it, the concession stands were doing big business, the booze merchants better business, and the audience seemed pleasantly anesthetized throughout the experience. Leon neither has the material nor has the skills to be a serious soulman, his performance was a tasteful bore and I would rather watch Lil Uzi rap over preprogrammed beats any time/
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