Leon Bridges issued a challenge early in his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
“We came all the way from Funkytown, Texas, to see if Minneapolis has the juice,” he announced, trying to get a response from the fans.
Um, “Funkytown” was a smash international hit in 1980 outta Minneapolis about Minneapolis. So, yes, we know a little bit about Funkytown. That’s one reason why the crowd ate up Bridges’ often exciting, 90-minute performance.
He’s a terrific showman, with Gumby-like legs, kinetic energy and dance-happy feet.
He came to dance, make women swoon to ballads and get funky in his own throwback way.
The 27-year-old’s style is funky but his music isn’t. He exudes pre-Motown soul – Sam Cooke, the boardwalk and the like – with panache.
The pride of Fort Worth is a smooth, soulful singer and a slick, energetic showman. However, his songwriting skills aren’t in the same league. Songs like “Hold On” lacked dynamics and depth.
But most of his repertoire, taken from his debut album, last year’s “Coming Home,” connected with the appreciative audience. He triumphed with the jump blues boogie “Twistin’ and “Groovin,” the well-crafted “Lonely Road" and the gospelly “Shine” and “River” (the only number for which he played guitar),
Bridges also offered a crowd-pleasing cover of Ginuwine’s 1996 hit “Pony” (with plenty of vigorous dancing) and a 15-minute boogie jam encore that sounded straight out of Bar Band 101. But the crowd loved it.
The crowd also loved opening act Lianne La Havas, who is from the same British soul school as Amy Winehouse, Adele and Corinne Bailey Rae. With her voice sounding stronger than at the Varsity Theater last fall, she also did a version of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April.”
She mentioned that he’d taught it to her so they could play it together. With the stage bathed in purple lights, she offered the moving tribute with just her electric guitar and a hint of organ. Even Funkytown can get poignantly quiet when necessary.