Far Out headed back to the Deaf Institute in Manchester to catch the first visit to the city by one of 2015’s biggest sensations thus far.
Fresh from a triumphant set on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury last month and the unveiling of his debut LP Coming Home, Leon Bridges came to perform as part of a short run of UK dates that now look understated compared to the much larger spaces he will return to in the Autumn.
That considered, there is a buzz of anticipation on the the night as the sell-out crowd at the 250-capacity venue seem to be united in an appreciation that they are the lucky ones who got in there first with Bridges.
There’s a completely different energy to the support act, Okay Kaya, who plays soft, acoustic heart-wrenchers with an intensity that has punters mouthing their order to the bar staff, so as to not take any of the edge off.
But somehow the contrast works well, garnering an atmosphere of fulfilment and serenity perfect for a calm summer’s night.
Bridges arrived with his full band – including the man who is basically the mastermind behind the whole project, fellow Texan and White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins. He and his bandmate Josh Block picked up on Bridges after catching him singing a few covers in a dive bar, took him under their wing. Since then the partnership has never looked back.
At times, there could be a slight criticism from the most cynical among us that such a sculpted and pre-meditated sound focused on emulating an iconic era of the 60s lacks a little authenticity, but once we get off our high-horse the tunes are just too good to refuse.
He kicks off with the uplifting single ‘Better Man’, a neo-soul anthem that has everyone’s arms aloft.
Many of the highlights that follow come from softer moments, with Bridges (although coming across as quite nervous in between songs) managing to hold and maintain the gaze of the entire room. Perhaps the finest piece of genuine artistry on the record is ‘Lisa Sawyer’ – a touching ballad written by Bridges about his mother. He treats the audience to a pitch-perfect version that is something of a centrepiece.
The band leave the stage and a few attendees start to filter out, then being berated by the smarmy ironic hipster-type who sits at the box office, who for some reason rejoices in the “school boy error” made by those who think the show is over.
That aside, Bridges atones and puts the smiles right back on the audience’s faces with a bumper encore that we didn’t really expect him to have in his arsenal. The irresistible groove of ‘Let You Down’ is real a highlight of Bridges’ return to the stage and the final piece of evidence that when he returns to play Manchester’s Albert Hall in October, the atmosphere will be explosive.