Reviewed onThursday July 21
With her confident, eclectic new record Blastoma hot off the presses, Ngaiire is a vibrant opening act, throwing herself into choice cuts like ‘Diggin’, the midtempo ‘I Wear Black’ and the more muscular rock of ‘House On A Rock’. Her upbeat set also includes some older cuts like ‘Rabbit Hole’, where her soulful voice cuts through heavy beats and a swirling keyboard melody, and ‘Around’, which settles comfortably into a downtempo groove. She also shows some trademark sass as a hype woman for tonight’s headliner Leon Bridges: “You’ll leave here pregnant for sure!” she tells the fast-growing crowd.
Strutting onto stage in a white jacket, high-waisted trousers and a well-shined pair of dancing shoes, Leon Bridges proves every bit as charismatic as promised and infuses ‘Smooth Sailin’’ and ‘There She Goes’ with a fiery energy that makes for a more visceral experience than their supremely tasteful recorded versions.
He’s a hyper-energetic, jerky-limbed presence and though his velvety croon is front and centre, there are killer contributions throughout from a gun seven-piece band: the driving organ and spirited saxophone work on ‘Better Man’, for instance, the crisp drumming on ‘Brown Skin Girl’, or the collective decision to push ‘Flowers’ to a daredevil pace.
One of the real gems is ‘Lisa Sawyer’, an affectionately drawn potted history of Bridges’ mother’s life, which begins with some gorgeous doo-wop backing vocals and unfolds with expressive phrasing; rarely have the words ‘New Orleans’ been sung with this depth of feeling, or this many syllables.
“I’m just tryin’ to make love to y’all,” he confesses at one point, and with his rich, smoothly emphatic voice in fine form, it’s fair to say this sold-out crowd is very much a willing partner. Late in the set, he strips things back on ‘River’ with just backing vocals, waves of ghostly organ and Bridges himself on reverb-soaked guitar.
It shows another side of his craft, as does a divine cover of Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’, which kicks off the encore. It’s by far the most sexed-up song in Bridges’ mostly genteel repertoire, but he slips into this slinky, sensual new guise with absolute aplomb.
Coming Home is a record content to stay in its own lane, existing in a hermetically sealed bubble of warmly nostalgic retro soul. It remains a terrific debut, but tonight’s performance makes the tantalising suggestion that Bridges may have a few more tricks up his stylish sleeves.