Where are all the black people?
That’s what everybody was remarking at Leon Bridges’s sold-out show at the Greek last night. If you were in attendance you’d think he’s one of the biggest acts on the planet. But he’s not. Welcome to the modern music business of niches, where you can be a star amongst your fan base, but unknown outside it.
Now the thing about Leon Bridges’s music is it’s inoffensive. And I mean this in the best possible way. So much of what is lauded these days a great percentage of the public detests. As big as hip-hop might be, many ignore it. Same deal with Beyonce, her appearance at Coachella? Lauded by the press, ignored by just about everybody. This is not the way it used to be, used to be the media anointed you and everybody paid attention. Now the media no longer has a hold on the populace like it used to.
And yes, a lot of rappers are black, and Beyonce too, BUT SO IS LEON BRIDGES!
He’s singing soul music, and there seems to be little room for soul music in the black space these days, at least new stuff, Leon’s stuff. What is happening? Is the throwback sound anathema, must you rap and employ beats to get attention?
And it is about attention, Bridges is one of those acts that most people would like if they ever heard his music.
Right now it’s the Triple-A crowd, millenial and older white people.
Of course there’s some African-American traction, but it was less than five percent of those in attendace last night. Has Bridges just not gotten his chance or has he been rejected or..?
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.
And he almost stumbled into a career. He never thought it would happen. He was just living in Fort Worth making demos and word got to Michael McDonald and there was an ensuing deal with Columbia and this proves it is all about the music, because Leon did not have the CV, none of the vaunted socials all the labels are supposedly looking for. So let this be a beacon to wannabes and also a warning. You can break the rules, but you’ve got to be damn good.
And how can music this good go unnoticed?
His new album is more contemporary, less of a throwback to Sam Cooke, and he was on “CBS Sunday Morning,” the only program that truly moves the needle, so there is action, but it’s not sweeping the country, it’s a bubble.
And it is about AAA, but it’s also about word of mouth. Like right now, if you’ve got no idea who Leon is you’ll check his music out and say…I DIG THIS! Where has this guy been? Right under your nose. But you missed him while you were trying to escape the tsunami of hype.
You’ll be enraptured by “Bad Bad News” from the new album. It doesn’t exactly inhabit Stevie Wonder land, but it’s absent the contemporary bells and whistles Jason Derulo, who’s one of the best, employs. The sound is classic. From an era where you could listen to not only Mr. Wonder, but AC/DC and Joni Mitchell too. Now the choices are even broader, but the trees in the forest all blend together.
And you cannot keep your noggin from nodding when you listen to “Smooth Sailin'” from the debut. It’s the groove. And the horns and…
That’s right, last night’s show was not a production tuned to tape, it wasn’t about hard drives, but players. A rollicking full band. We went from the big bands of the forties to the rock ensembles of classic rock to today, where you might get an MC and a turntable, or a hard drive. Yes, Leon Bridges is out of time, but some stuff is timeless.
And “Beyond” references his grandma, the object of his desire “might just be my everything and beyond.” There’s no danger here, no one shooting anybody, no one dressed in leather and spikes, instead there’s just humanity and feeling. The songs soothe and draw you in, not the trappings.
And then Leon’s most streamed track, “River,” talking about redemption, just an acoustic guitar and a vocal, it’s almost like it’s 1962 all over again, or maybe 1972. This is basic stuff, and the basic stuff always resonates.
This is a revolution. And it’s bigger than Leon Bridges and his music. It illustrates the OPPORTUNITIES!
We’ve been taught that it’s all about the hit parade, the Top Ten, the Top Forty. It was otherwise during the heyday of free format album rock in the late sixties and very early seventies, ever since then… There are the hits and everything else. Especially after MTV. But then Napster and the internet blew up the paradigm and no one noticed. Everybody’s still trumpeting the chart when those tracks might be popular with a niche, but they’re far from the whole story.
The whole story is music is a wide swath, and we need new lenses to see the scene.
Which gets started by tracks, but truly lives live, it’s all about the experience, and people are willing to pay for it. Leon Bridges is not a heritage act with ten radio hits where you weigh whether his ticket is worth the price… No, you go to see Leon Bridges because of the newness, because of the excitement, you can’t stay away. Some sounds just draw you in, you don’t care what anybody else thinks, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to go…
See Leon Bridges.
P.S. Michael McDonald’s old client John Mayer came out and wailed on a couple of numbers and although he killed, with subtlety in spaces, you couldn’t help but sit there and think that Mayer might be a star but first and foremost he’s a musician, he wants to play! That’s what it’s all about, the performing, in the studio, on the stage, in the rehearsal hall, in your bedroom. The flame of our musical values has been flickering, but last night Mayer, Bridges and his troupe fanned them, hard.