Atlanta-based singer-songwriter and soul powerhouse Teddy Swims rocketed through a sold-out show at the Fonda Theatre with flair and precision with his backing back Freak Freely, joined by special friends. Opening act Stephen Day shared the stage with Teddy and Allen Stone during two different songs and Teddy brought out Allen Stone for a special cover duet, as well as harmonious trio for the history books. The Hollywood stop of the Tough Love World Tour was Teddy Swims’ first headlining show since December 2019 at the now-closed venue The Satellite in Silver Lake.
The evening was nothing short of soul greatness. Nashville singer-songwriter Stephen Day was a showstopper, sounding effortless on feel-good “On Top Of The World”, with spectacular vocals and standout organ, like a classic 60s soul hit. He foot-tapped throughout the entire song, while the bassline grooved, followed by a lively guitar and instrumental outro from his band. Masterful soul singer Allen Stone made his first surprise appearance of the night for his song “Back of My Hand”, joining Day for an incredibly smooth duet with shining vocal moments for both and harmony galore. Day then brought Teddy Swims on stage for “Nothings Wrong With Me”, an indie-rock pleaser with the guys also harmonizing wonderfully together. Day impressed even further with the 2016 soul ballad “If You Were The Rain”, a clear highlight of his set with Day projecting his vocals and a call-and-response jazzing up the crowd, singing “today, it’s OK, cause I wanna play in the rain”. Band members Andrew Brown on bass and Scooter Spicer stood out on drums and Andy Catá had a cool, bluesy solo moment as well on the keys. Day wrapped his impressive set with a country cover of “Baby Lock Them Doors and Turn the Lights Down Low”, in a deep octave, bringing it back to his normal head voice, with the band jamming out in a rockabilly arrangement.
Teddy Swims launched into an unforgettable set with the stage orange, the drums and guitars going hard and Teddy stretching his legs, later jumping and doing a split for “Til’ I Change Your Mind”. He played all the favorites plus two new tunes and all six tracks off his stellar EP Tough Love (released in January), wearing a checkered white jacket and dancing it out during his upbeat breakout hit “Broke”. The love was alive on “Blowin Smoke”, with Swims’ sweet and tender melody elevated with smooth runs as Teddy bent his knees to shake it during the total throwback. Swims shared that he was playing a new song that fans have not heard called “Dose”, a mid-tempo ballad with lots of “ooh-oohs”, and by now the hat was off and the glasses were on his forehead.
The stage flashed in purple and red hues for the bright and lively “For The Rest of Your Life”, doing exactly what Teddy Swims does best, which is bend and blend genre. The cupid-centric song taps elements of soul, country and pop with its instrumentation. Lead guitarist Jesse Hampton, bassist Christian Griswold, Jairus Hardge on keys and drummer Sonic closed out with a hot instrumental while Teddy waved his arm at the crowd. The country-rock vibes continued with a hip-hop beat on mid-tempo “My Bad” with another standout moment from Hanson by the song’s end.
Teddy Swims offered fist bumps to fans during the heartfelt ballad “Somebody Should Kiss You”, urging fans’ hands up during the guitar solo. Blue and red fiercely flashed behind the band during infectious pop/rock tune “Love For a Minute”, sounding in moments like an uptempo Ed Sheeran hit, while the guitars and drums thrashed throughout.
Another new song was introduced, “P.T.S.D.”, a dreamy 80s-tinged cut, with Swims getting the crowd in on the “oh oh ohs” and his voice in full force. Teddy danced with his jacket pulled down around shoulders during the rhythmic “Night Off” which included yet another massive, rockin’ guitar solo. The first cover of the night was Mario’s “Let Me Love You”, which sounded like it was a Teddy Swims song in the best way, completely in his vocal lane. The crowd loved it, singing along and the band completely elevated the musicality. Mario would be stunned. The band walked off and Teddy took the center stage stool for a stripped-down set that was magic from start to finish. He mentioned that his “beautiful wife” was present and the purple spotlights zoomed in on Teddy for his new standout power ballad “Amazing”, belting his notes while the place went nuts. The song should shortlist Teddy Swims as one of the top male vocalists on the scene right now, up there with talent like Lewis Capaldi and FINNEAS to get a sense for where he’s going career-wise.
Teddy then talked about seeing his favorite singer perform about seven times, grabbing a drink after a show and later singing for him. He was talking about Allen Stone, mentioning how they spent time together in Spokane and said “Allen Stone is my hero and my best friend” and the two were a force on Teddy’s Shania Twain duet “You’re Still The One”. Stone and Swims’ harmonies fit perfectly like a musical dream, seriously like a Grammy-ready performance. (Harvey Mason Jr., are you listening?) It is one of the best duets you could hear all year, with the crowd cheering during the held out phrase, “Look-how-far-we’ve-come-my ba-by” as the two harmonized.
Allen Stone’s “Give You Blue” was next with Stephen Day joining in for an excellent trio of soul overload like this gig was at Carnegie Hall. Their hands went up for one another as they each took a verse and were awed by one another’s vocal timbre and athleticism. Cheers were flying left and right during the entire soul sing-off during uplifting lyrics like “When your sky is gray, baby I will give you blue”. Mid-song Teddy even said “what a dream” and they riffed at the end, making one another laugh with runs on top of runs, giving everyone in the place chills. “And that is an exclusive for you tonight”, said Swims. “Allen just happened to be in town”.
“I’m having the time of my life tonight”, said Teddy. The stage was then appropriately flush in emerald for the heartbreaker “Please Turn Green”. Teddy explained the song’s background, “So I grew up in a really small town, I don’t know if you can relate. It’s about running into my ex at a red light, I hope you like it”. The beautiful piano juxtaposed Teddy’s powerful vocal and The Fonda was silent for the chilling masterpiece.
“I had a friend of mine who passed away and we knew each other from middle school”, shared Teddy. “I was living at this house, I don’t know if honeysuckles grow here ’cause I’m from the South. It was raining and I was smoking a cigarette on my porch and I saw this dying tree and said, is this the honeysuckle tree? I remember driving in the car with my mom and I remember it was something as a kid I would always smell. I had this thing for 14 months in my face and didn’t even realize. This one is about looking at what’s in front of you and being appreciative of what you have”.
Swims added, “I can’t believe people from my Satellite show two years ago are still with me. I might cry”. He added his adoration of the diversity of his fanbase and the culture he is creating and played the timeless, “Simple Things” with just his keyboardist and guitarist. The poignant lyrics hit hard on the line “It’s a call from a friend that you love, but never get to see”, with Teddy getting noticeably emotional, and sounding in moments like Chris Stapleton.
Teddy came back for the encore with his full band back on stage, saying “I’ma bring my babies back up here. Thank you for making us feel so special and so at home”. Swims’ glasses were on for the uplifting ballad “L.I.F.E” off his 2021 debut EP Unlearning, bringing all the feels. The tempo was back up for the flirtatious, sexy “911”, with funky percussion and tight instrumentation from all band members. Teddy Swims said, “This song changed my life” and he commented on his fans’ “insane energy”, closing an epic night of live music with his phenomenal “Bed On Fire”. Though the duet features a stunning version with Ingrid Andress (and we wish she was there too!), Swims’ solo version brought the house down with his outstanding vocal.
Teddy Swims’ Tough Love World Tour continues throughout North America in April and May before heading to Europe through June. He is arguably poised to be the most in-demand American male vocalist since the rise of Bruno Mars, with a musical trajectory that could see his star shine somewhere in the middle of Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake fame.
Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Victoria Smith