Proving that soul music is really happening, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby finds a packed out and enthusiastic Academy for two supremely classy performers.
When people ask why there are more great gigs in Manchester than there are in Liverpool, the simple answer is that they sell better in Manchester. More people are willing to get up off their arse and go to the show. Especially for soul gigs. There have been many times we have seen great acts in the city play to an under-sold room. So, it is a relief to find tonight’s show sold to the rafters, and a lengthy queue to get in for two genuinely happening young soul artists.
Opening up tonight is Andra Day, making one of her first appearances in the country. It was actually pretty clear that a significant percentage of the crowd had come specifically to see her, as the applause that greeted her was more enthusiastic than you would expect for a mere support act.
Day has an old Hollywood vibe about her. Entering wearing a Leopard print coat, a headdress and what appeared to be silk pyjamas, she oozed laid back charm and split her set between original songs, and unexpected arrangements of cover songs that on paper shouldn’t have worked, but in practice absolutely did. Early in her set Kendrick Lamar’s No Make Up (Her Vice) was transformed into a jazz standard worthy on Ella Fitzgerald.
Most surprisingly, at the end Day asked if there were any Queen fans in the audience, and proceeded to similarly run through I Want It All. By the end of her set, she had captivated the entire room with her rich vocals, likeable personality and stellar band (special props to her guitar player, who received several ovations for his solos).
Immediately bursting into Smooth Sailin’, Leon Bridges entered to thunderous applause. With a classic ye olde time curtained backdrop, he managed to make the usually dour O2 Academy feel like a somewhat classy joint.
Bridges’ stage act is a little more honed than Day’s, but it feels like they are aiming for different things. Bridges seems to relish more in the throwback vibe than Day does, emulating Sam Cooke in both songwriting and stagecraft. In fact, Smooth Sailin’ is a perfect opener for him, as it almost feels like a mission statement.
Though there are many highlights to his set, such as an early Better Man and Coming Home with a quite frankly stonking band, its mesmerising main set closer River that steals the show. Performed quietly with just a guitar and backing vocalist and stripped away of all the vixens, it proved that there is definitely real substance behind all the fun stage patter.
The nagging question for this writer, though, is how far he can take the Sam Cooke schtick. Although Bridges is unquestionably a supremely gifted performer, singer and writer, there is probably only so far his current act can take him. The new songs he played tonight sounded along the same lines, and there is admittedly no reason for him to shift gears now when he’s playing sold out gigs. Make no mistake – he’s bloody good at it. But the future will sure be interesting.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson