Back to Rockville

Leon Bridges revives the vintage soul of Sam Cooke at KC’s Uptown Theater

Gospel and soul singer songwriter, Leon Bridges, performed Tuesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.
Gospel and soul singer songwriter, Leon Bridges, performed Tuesday at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. Special to the Star

A pair of enthralling performances that juxtaposed old and new sounds delighted a capacity audience of more than 2,000 at the Uptown Theater on Tuesday. Leon Bridges, a thrilling soul revivalist, and Lianne La Havas, a clever contemporary pop artist, made convincing cases for the merits of their contrasting approaches.

Although Bridges, 27, didn’t ask for the position, he became the preeminent emissary of R&B authenticity when his impressive debut album “Coming Home” was released last year. The recording displays the Texan’s uncanny knack for replicating the sound of the late soul legend Sam Cooke.

In addition to simulating Cooke’s sound on Tuesday, the wardrobes worn by Bridges and his six-piece backing band and the spare stage set reproduced the look of an upscale R&B show of the early 1960s.

Almost all of the ensemble’s 100-minute outing faithfully adhered to a 50-year-old sound but there was nothing stuffy about its effort. Slower material like “Pull Away” crackled with energy while upbeat songs such as the gospel-based “Flowers” were delivered with frenzied recklessness.

Bridges’ compositions tend to approximate Cooke’s hits, but a few of his songs are exceptional. A rapturous reading of the brilliant spiritual “River” was stunning while the wondrous groove of “Smooth Sailin’ ” was an ideal set opener.

Bridges’ gorgeous voice sells his lesser material. His singing made the dusty drive between Fort Worth and Amarillo seem idyllic on the new song “Texas Sun.” Bridges’ dancing was almost as impressive as his singing. His fluid spins, ducks and dips caused him to resemble a limber running back eluding tackles.

He had plenty of help. His band’s most notable contributions included the honking tenor saxophone that propelled “Out of Line” and a slide guitar solo on the unreleased “Hold On” that indicated that Bridges may intend to expand his sound.

If the cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony” is any indication, modifications to Bridges’ approach will be gradual. The band refitted the lurid 1996 funk romp with a retro-soul arrangement.

La Havas, 27, was far less cautious during her Kansas City debut. No two songs in the London based singer-songwriter’s 40-minute opening set sounded alike. Before she was joined by four supporting musicians, La Havas accompanied herself on guitar for a hot jazz interpretation of the amusing “Age.”

The sophisticated pop of “Au Cinema,” the hearty neo-soul of “Unstoppable” and the cultured dance song “Is Your Love Big Enough?” were bolstered by her stunning voice and ebullient stage presence. La Havas’ innovations were every bit as compelling as Bridges’ steadfast traditionalism.

Leon Bridges set list

Smooth Sailin’, Outta Line, Whole Lotta Woman, Pull Away, The Juice, Better Man, Brown Skin Girl, Golden Room, Lonely Road, Lisa Sawyer, Texas Sun, Hold On, Flowers, Twistin’ & Groovin’, Shine, Coming Home, River, Pony, Pussy Footin’, Mississippi Kisses