If 2015 marked Leon Bridges' breakout year, consider 2016 when he hit his stride.
Last fall, the Fort Worth soul and R&B singer performed in Dallas on the heels of his debut album release, still a fresh face in pop music. Sunday, almost one year later, Bridges returned to his home turf for an encore. And while much of the scene resembled his prior appearance — Bridges, dressed dapperly from head to toe, standing center stage at the intimate and revered Music Hall at Fair Park — something in the singer himself had seemingly changed.
Bridges commanded the stage with previously unrealized confidence and danced unabashedly before a sold-out crowd through 90 minutes of hits.
With impeccable style and the swagger to match, Bridges looked like a seasoned star.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise — in his time between visits, Bridges was groomed by high-profile performances, including one at the White House for President Obama. He collaborated with artists from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to Kacey Musgraves. And he's become a familiar face on television networks, even earning spots on Saturday Night Live and the Today show.
"It feels good to be home," Bridges told the audience shortly after taking the stage. Rest assured, they were happy to have him.
Bridges looked on top of his game Sunday as he twisted and grooved through what have become his classics, such as "Smooth Sailin,'" "Better Man," "River" and the title track from last summer's release, Coming Home. And since this was home in every sense of the word, Bridges' friends and family dotted the crowd. His mother received a proper introduction as the "special lady" about whom he'd written the tune "Lisa Sawyer," before he dove straight into the bluesy ballad. (After the show, the woman of honor told us she never tires of hearing that song.)
Bridges also used this opportunity to play some new songs. "Texas Sun," for example, is fresh slice of soul music he wrote about long, sunset drives in his Ford Fusion, he told the audience. But with his retro charm and charisma, it wasn't difficult to picture Bridges with the top down in a '55 T-Bird.
Bridges and his fabulous backing band — Jeff Dazey (saxophone), Austin Jenkins (bass/guitar), Kenny Wayne Hollingsworth (guitar), Andrew Skates (bass/organ), Brittni Jessie (vocals) and Rico Allen (drums) — didn't rely covering other artists this time around, which suggests prospect of a new album may be right around the corner. (Fingers crossed!)
There was, however, one exception: "Pony" by Ginuwine, which kicked off the band's encore. Mom's not going to be happy about this one, Bridges joked before laying the sex appeal on thick.
Both Bridges' band and opener Lianne La Havas left their souls on the stage, but if there were one critique of the evening, it would be the venue. While stylistically appropriate for La Havas' breed of lounge jazz and soul, and Bridges' doo-wop vibe, the Music Hall at Fair Park's setup discouraged attendees from standing up and dancing alongside the performers. The sound may have been exceptional — La Havas, in particular, was able to engulf the hall with her silky smooth voice as she softly picked guitar during tracks like "Green and Gold" and "Unstoppable" — but both performers deserved a better show of appreciation.
Make no mistake, that didn't keep the good times from rolling. La Havas prepped the crowd with candor, drawing a likeness to Dallas' R&B queen Erykah Badu during some of her melodies. (Recommended listening: 2015's Blood.)
But once Bridges took the stage, it was all eyes on the rising star, who continues to grow into his own as phenomenal entertainer.
From the looks of Sunday night, he's just getting warmed up.