Photos: Leon Bridges @ The Green Mill (Chicago), 4/29/15

Less than a year ago, soul revivalist Leon Bridges‘ days were spent washing dishes miles from Chicago’s historic Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, with his nights consisting of open mic performances around his hometown of Forth Worth, Texas. But a pair of chance encounters with White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins would change everything, as Jenkins and bandmate Josh Block would go on to record and produce an album for Bridges, carrying out a project they’d been dreaming of: to record a vintage voice with their troves of vintage equipment. They found the perfect sound in Bridges, whose Sam Cooke-esque croon embodies what early ’60s soul was all about. The duo rounded up local talents and helped the 25-year-old songwriter create his first full-length record, free of charge.

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Columbia Records would soon sign the young artist, allowing him to join the likes of some of the most iconic musicians in history (Beyonce, Adele, and Bob Dylan to name a few). And of course, he’s now gifted with the opportunity to tour and play such storied venues as the Green Mill in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, which opened in 1907, served as a hangout for Al Capone, and is said to still have a network of underground tunnels used by gangsters back in the 1920s.

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Bridges, dressed to the nines in his signature high-waisted dress pants, a tan suit coat, and saddle shoes, with his stylish and endlessly impressive six-piece band in tow, melded naturally into the historic stage as he sang timeless songs for his mother (“Lisa Sawyer”) and grandparents (accompanied by a tale of how his grandfather first noticed his grandmother because of her long legs), and also dove into his pre-album release hits  “Better Man” and “Coming Home.” The latter track is what first caught White Denim’s Jenkins’ (far right in the photo below) attention back in Texas, and the guitarist looked more pleased than anyone to be performing it last night as he and Josh Block (on drums) accompanied Bridges for the full performance.

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The show was nothing short of endearing; Bridges’ nervous stage banter reminded the audience just how new he is to playing for a sold-out room that showed up specifically for him. It was also a telling performance, foreshadowing the popularity on the horizon for this inimitable young throw-back artist whose sound and style captures a musical time steeped in nostalgia, but with a fresh new twist. A major hat-tip to Jenkins and Block, who struck gold by championing this young Texan.

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