A few thoughts on soul star Leon Bridges' first of two nights, on Thursday, at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul.
- From his 2015 debut to this year’s sophomore album, the 29-year-old Texan has made the journey from retro soul singer to modern soul man. If he evoked Sam Cooke in a peacock-blue vintage suit three years ago at First Avenue, this time he seemed like a piano-less John Legend in a multi-color African-pattern jacket and coral pants whose smooth rhythmic music was produced by the hottest names in current R&B.
- During Thursday’s concert, Bridges had a very distracting stage manner, prancing back and forth constantly, seldom dancing and rarely looking at the audience. At least that was the case for about the first hour of his 100-minute performance. It felt like this could have been a dress rehearsal except more than 2,500 people were in the house. For the final stretch, Bridges finally faced the crowd and danced, sort of like David Byrne essaying Michael Jackson’s moves.
- Bridges offered eight songs from each of his two albums – “Coming Home” and “Good Thing.” And three other selections not heard on his two records.
- Two tunes about his mother stood out: the ballad story “Lisa Sawyer” from his debut, delivered with his warm, soulful voice, and the jazzy “Georgia to Texas,” from his second LP, about her journey -- his most personal vocal of the night, featuring nice saxophone and guitar solos from his sidemen.
- “Ana,” one of the non-album numbers, had a funky bass line and a lite-island vibe, which was definitely a different feel from his other material.
- Bridges elevated his performance during the home stretch, starting with the Southern soul of the slow, slinky and sexy “Mrs.,” probably his most romantic song; the smooth funk of “Smooth Sailin’;” the energetic, jumpy old-time rock ‘n’ roll of “Flowers”; the stripped down soul of the gorgeous, easy flowing “River,” and the festive finale of the New Orleans-styled “Mississippi Kisses,” which featured Brandon Thomas’ roaring guitar intro of riffs from classic-rock songs, blues chestnuts and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”