On the eve of the 51st anniversary of the death of Sam Cooke, Leon Bridges revived the sounds and styles of the legendary soul singer.
Performing Thursday night before a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, Bridges, 26, delivered a one-hour set of songs that tapped into the smooth, old-school sounds of 1960s soul, infused with pop, gospel and doo-wop.
Dressed in a crisp mocha-colored suit and backed by a sharp-dressed seven-piece band, Bridges launched his revival with “Flowers,” a tight, jaunty pop-soul number with a rubbery, twist-and-shout groove. It’s a track off “Coming Home,” Bridges’ ballyhooed debut album, which cracked the Top 10 of the Billboard 200.
The set list which comprised 15 songs, featured nearly every track from the album, a collection of songs that express a variety of moods and sentiments, some of them spiritual: love, loss, regret, remorse, atonement. “Twistin’ and a Groovin,” which bears a heavy resemblance to Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” was a tribute to his grandparents. “Lisa Henry” was a tender ballad about his mother. “River” was a meditative hymn about repentance and salvation.
His band was taut and footloose all night, embellishing his songs with wafts of soulful organ and spasms of “Yakety Yak” sax. Singer Brittni Jessie was a conspicuous sidekick, whether shaking the tambourine or applying background vocals. Other highlights: “Better Man,” “Brown Skin Girl,” “Pussy Footin’ ” and “Coming Home,” a soft-swaying love ballad that started a widespread sing-along.
Bridges wasn’t the only act inside the Midland reviving old-school sounds Thursday night. Nathaniel Rateliff, a soul-singing songwriter from Hermann, Mo., and his six-piece band the Night Sweats gave the big crowd a lively set of catchy songs that pay homage to the soulful sounds of a variety of predecessors: Arthur Alexander, Van Morrison, Mitch Ryder.
They plumbed their self-titled album, released in August on, fittingly, Stax Records. It’s filled with lots of irresistible grooves and party-anthems, many of which raise the kind of boardwalk-soul vibe of the E Street Band. They were as big a draw as Bridges, and their single “S.O.B.” aroused the rowdiest reaction all night.
Houndmouth, an indie-folk/rock quartet from Indiana, had the unenviable task of following Rateliff and preceding Bridges, but they filled the void capably. They are in that camp of bands that issue big, fruity anthems with foot-stomping gang vocals, bands like Grouplove, Of Monsters and Men and the like. Songs like “Say It” and “Hey Rose” aroused swells of dancing and singing-along, and the sunny hip-shaking “Sedona” set off a blast of euphoria from the front of the room to the back of the balcony.