When Leon Bridges approached the stage of the sold-out Michigan Theater on Saturday, May 7, he probably expected to see the faces of at least a few University of Michigan students. And that would have been a fair assumption: Ann Arbor is, after all, a college town, and Leon Bridges is, after all, a bit of a star, with six Grammy nominations, including one for each of his albums.
So why were my buddy and I some of the only U-M faces I recognized in the crowd? Maybe students listen to some of Bridges’ songs, and generally like his music, but not enough to justify the $84.95 tickets. Maybe everyone and their moms were down the block at Skeeps, downing pitchers of vodka-cran. Maybe the button-downed, bearded, white millennials were positively bursting at any chance to watch Bridges perform and bought up all the tickets before any students could. Maybe I should stop my wild theorizing.
The first bunch of songs Bridges played were pulled from his two latest albums, Good Thing (2018) and Gold-Diggers Sound (2021), both of which exhibit Bridges’ amazing genre-bending, genre-blending repertoire. With elements of soul, R&B, country, pop and singer-songwriter indie-rock, Bridges and his band produce a unified and profoundly groovy sound. He’s boosted all the more by the sweet songwriting and vocals that first earned Bridges acclaim all the way back in 2015 with his first album, Coming Home.
Throughout these first songs, my friend and I scouted out seats, bouncing closer and closer to the stage until we were touching it in the front row. Finally securing what might have been the best seats in the house, we stood up to move and groove, bob and weave, sway and stir or whatever you want to call my attempt at dancing. But when I looked behind me, I was overcome with an almost overwhelming wave of self-consciousness: We were the only ones on our feet!
The band was bringing it, Bridges was killing it and these millennial-boomers-to-be were chilling on their bums making complete fools of me and my friend, flailing our arms like car-wash-balloons for all eyes to see.
But I didn’t back down, and neither did Bridges and the band, carrying the full weight of the vibes on their back like camp counselors on a hiking trip. The drummer maintained the steadiest, truest grin I’ve ever seen in my life; the buff, texture-guitarist whipped out some temperately meandering soul-filled solos; Bridges dove into his bag of deft dance moves. We had a concert on our hands.
Bridges saved “Texas Sun” (2020, produced with Khruangbin), “Coming Home” (2015) and, finally, “River” (2015) for last. For “River,” everyone left the stage except for Bridges, a guitar and a sparkle-speckled backup singer for a truly magical rendition.
And yes, the crowd did come around, eventually standing for a song or two and even clapping along at the explicit suggestion of another backup-singer-meets-hype-man. And yes, I did have a pretty amazing time. I mean, I was front row at Leon Bridges, goddamnit. It was fantastic. But come on, U-M students — let’s show up for our artists.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.