Leon Bridges & Kali Uchis: Live at The Fonda
The Fonda was overtaken with old school swagger as Leon Bridges played one of three sold-out shows in Los Angeles (his third was at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel). With the classic underdog success story, the Fort Worth native crafted songs that didn't fit in with the musical landscape of the modern day. Working as a dishwasher, he played his 50's and 60's style at open mic nights before becoming discovered by Columbia Records–the same label that served as a home to many of his influences in their day. As the sounds of decades past resonated with him, they found a home in the hearts of many that stumbled upon his music as it quickly gained popularity online. He was joined on the bill that night by Colombian singer Kali Uchis who invokes her own old-school flavor with new-school kicks, her vibe reminiscent of Amy Winehouse but with qualities that make them uniquely her own.
Kali Uchis kicked off the night in head-to-toe glamour. Curled blonde hair, a short satin dress, and jewels brought an echo of Marilyn Monroe in the Hollywood venue. Much like the icon, Uchis had her eye on the prize while sashaying to "Know What I Want" before transitioning into a sexier number and returning with fan favorite "Rush." She thanked the crowd, shared a story of having to replace her backup singer momentarily because he "got too into it" at previous performances, and ended the night with the bittersweet "Loner" as she commanded the center of the stage on her own.
It wasn't long until Leon Bridges hopped up onto the stage for the main event. Guitar in hand, the throwback singer crooned a song for "Doris" with blue lights behind him, begging her not to leave with the classic love song longing. Then the stage jumped up a notch, the rest of the band joined in, and it felt like a recreation of The Ed Sullivan Show before your eyes as the audience got down to the groovy tune of "Flowers." He introduces himself to the crowd after riling them up then, like Uchis, sang of the lonely road that got him to where he is today. He urged Angelenos to love unconditionally before writing songs like him to become a "Better Man." Near every voice joins along to sing in a type of solidarity.
"Out of Line," missing from Bridges' debut, propels the energy forward, reminiscent of the old school rock and roll stylings that would frighten (or secretly excite) housewives the nation over. "Get down L.A.," Bridges cries and they follow suit as if his word is absolute. The modern-day staging hurts the experience as, with people crowded towards the front for a better view, revelers don't have much room to dance as they try to engage in the twist. Here, the music would lend itself well to the dance floor seen so often to the current generation in old movies, complete with the occasional teacher pulling couples apart like at a high school dance for full effect.
"I have one goal tonight," Bridges later shares, "to make you feel good." He asks the audience to turn to their neighbor and say, I love you. "Anybody in love? Next one's for you." "Coming Home," the little demo that floated around the internet and turned heads, finally makes its appearance. Nearly every voice in the theater sings in unison. Lovers sway in each other's arms and continue through the languid "Lisa Sawyer." "A year ago I was... not doing this," Bridges admits with a modest laugh as the show comes to a close.
The lights behind the band dim for his final number, like candlelight behind the team of performers. They leave the stage momentarily before coming back for a final goodbye. "That girl can't make up her mind, she say she want to be with me but she pussy footin' around," he declares but one thing's for sure: the girl may be pussy footin' around for his affection, but this crowd and the world ain't for the gospel of Leon Bridges. Lights flash brightly on stage as the night ends with the big-band sounds of "Mississippi Kisses" and Bridges dances to the sweet, sweet music.
story by Jordan Blakeman
photos by Hadas