Had the dresses been a bit longer, the phones a bit dumber, and the crowd a little less like the kind of people you see in the Exploratorium after hours, it would have seemed just like you were in 1950s Motown. In reality, it was a Thursday night in March. Almost everyone on stage was in some form of a suit, and the twistin’ and groovin’ flowed immediately. From the moment the music began to swell and Leon slid and twisted his way onto the stage, his jolt of energy was contagious.
Leon lit up the theater, and the audience spent the night dancing along with the 26-year old from Fort Worth, Texas who has taken the music world by storm in the last twelve months. The sold-out show began just after 9:15 p.m. when the band took the stage. The drummer kicked off the evening, leading the band into, “Smooth Sailing,” an upbeat saxophone-heavy song that set the tone for the night. Not even a full minute into the show and Leon had revealed his incredible dancing abilities, moving his body like a syncopated sprite.
The band followed with “There She Goes,” a song off the deluxe version of his debut album, Coming Home. The album was nominated for Best R&B Album at this year’s Grammys, though D’Angelo’s Black Messiah took home the award. Grammy or not, Leon’s vocal and performative talents are clearly on track to propel him to the top of anyone’s best new artist list. He and his band are doing something that just isn’t done anymore — they’re pure fun that’s as musically intricate as it is euphoric.
Leon’s career has skyrocketed this year since he started gaining national attention at SXSW last March. His performance at Outside Lands in August drew a crowd far bigger than expected, and he’s quickly moved up the Bay Area hierarchy of venues, selling out The Independent, The Fillmore, and now The Fox all in under a year, with plans to play one night at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre in the fall.
The crowd at the Fox was probably the best we’ve ever seen there. For most of the night everyone was incredibly quiet and respectful. When the lights dimmed and a sole spotlight shown on Leon for the set-ending “River,” a hush quickly fell over the crowd, allowing him to fill the venue just with his melodic voice and a soft electric guitar. Vocalist Brittni Jessie was alone on the stage with Leon, the two of the them harmonizing for the dead-quiet audience. Her gorgeous voice shone through Leon’s clean electric guitar, playing the simple two-chord song that would leave us feeling nostalgic for a time we never knew and excited for Leon’s future shows.
Photos by Sam Engel // Senior Staff