Black Pumas Cap Banner Week with ACL Taping
Lightning in a bottle
By Kevin Curtin,
12:15PM, Thu. Aug. 29, 2019
No matter how good a week you’ve had, it hasn’t turned out quite as sweet as the Black Pumas’ last seven nights.
During that span, the homegrown psychedelic soul act played a positively packed in-store at End of An Ear, where fans gripped second pressings of the the band’s ATO Records debut; commanded three sold-out shows at downtown Austin’s second largest outdoor venue, the Mohawk; and taped an episode for globally-sourced PBS live concert staple, Austin City Limits.
At the latter on Wednesday night, frontman Eric Burton made the camera operators work. During non-album cut “Black Cat,” the 27-year-old frontman jumped off the bandstand, danced through a dense audience, strode onto the bleachers, then gracefully hurdled a monitor to get back onstage. His tireless charisma, manifesting both through striking onstage physicality and his plaintive tenor, proved only overshadowed by his gratitude.
“This is majorly special for me,” the California transplant told attendees. “I used to busk outside the Starbucks right over there at Sixth and Congress, so you showing love means so much.”
That wasn’t so long ago. Before Black Pumas began performing live with a residency at C-Boy’s 19 months ago, Burton was a virtual unknown. Now, his latent star power begets actual stardom.
From the moment he assertively snatched the mic during smoldering opener “Next to You,” the singer – dressed in black overalls and a red hat reminiscent of Nineties show Blossom – emitted relentless energy on a strong seven-song sequence. Current KUTX single “Colors” served as an early highlight, with co-founder/producer Adrian Quesada stealing an ovation with his guitar solo. The debut LP’s finest track, “Know You Better,” featured Stephen Bidwell’s four-hit drum hook ushering in the song’s high-flying chorus before ramping into an electrifying coda where Quesada and keyboard/organ ace JaRon Marshall went full force. Burton, meanwhile, appeared possessed by the music as he executed some exhilarated acrobatics.
They then repeated the trick of bigger-than-the-album endings consistently and effectively on several other cuts, including lead single “Black Moon Rising” and sleeper “OCT 33.”
The septet’s 70-minute set played out decidedly font-loaded, with their best songs stacked in the first 30 minutes, which will likely amount to what airs locally early next year on KLRU. As such, the second half dwindled somewhat material-wise, but not in energy. After taking a final bow, the Pumas returned with a heavy soul variation on Paul McCartney-penned Beatles gem “Eleanor Rigby.”
That concluded a performance that clocks amongst the newest bands, not counting supergroups, ever chosen to appear on the 45-year-running program. For hometown acts, the prospect of showcasing on ACL stands as a career benchmark, not something that’ll happen on your first album cycle. Accordingly, Austin music fans will wrack their brains to remember such a swift groundswell – a local act that’s gone from first show to multi-night sellouts in a year and a half.
The program’s producers could have waited until Black Pumas released a second album, wrote more songs, and garnered a bigger national fanbase, but instead they captured something more important: lightning in a bottle.