Black Pumas Touch the Sky Live
Packed Stubb’s welcomes ATX superstars to begin sold-out run
By Carys Anderson,
11:05AM, Thu. May 27, 2021
Eric Burton’s not afraid of the coronavirus. At least not last night, as he lunged into the adoring, largely unmasked crowd at the Red River venue for selfies and group singalongs. His band, hometown heroes Black Pumas, kicked off a historic five-night run at Stubb’s Wednesday, a live stand originally scheduled for this month last year.
From the sold-out crowd’s deafening din, communion clearly amped the roaring throng – pandemic or not.
Before Burton, co-bandleader Adrian Quesada, and their fellow Pumas unleashed a torrent of psychedelic soul, Heartless Bastards oracle Erika Wennerstrom led a brand new band through a 45-minute cavalcade of indie rock that peaked with solo favorite “Extraordinary Love.”
“Every day I feel better,” announced the frontwoman to an audience inching toward herd immunity. “I’m happy to be here with y’all.”
Backed by a sixpiece wielding everything from a banjo to a shekere, Wennerstrom and company’s opening set favored light, mid-tempo grooves before building to a big finish. As the singer intoned, “The revolution is in your mind” from 2020 anthem “Revolution,” the refrain ran like a current through the crowd.
Soon enough, the headliners touched off their own uprising. Swaggering onstage in a red and white ensemble – complete with a mesh tank top and trademark shades – Burton let the applause wash over him.
“I can’t speak,” he said incredulously, later adding, “Anything but a livestream, seriously.”
The singer shouldn’t be surprised at his fans’ adoration. Following a clutch of Grammy nominations and blazing a path through the talk show circuit – let alone President Biden’s inauguration – Black Pumas remain Austin’s biggest export in years. This attention steeled the frontman into an arresting stage presence and the band into a well-honed soul-rock machine that now incorporates breakdowns to the brief songs of its 2019 debut.
“We had to make it a little bit more special for you this evening,” proclaimed Burton, before elongating the sultry “Black Moon Rising,” which allowed him to traverse the amphitheater freely.
The energy remained high all evening. While the Santa Monica busker-turned-focal-point held the venue’s collective attention, guitarist Quesada anchored the group’s contemporary R&B, adding a growl to “Touch the Sky” and a fiery solo to first breakout hit “Colors.” The unified sway of backup singers Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes proved essential to the 90-minute set.
It all culminated in the impassioned stomp “Fire,” an apt ending to live music’s long-awaited return.
In the sole quiet moment of the performance, a lone Burton suddenly appeared at the back of the venue, beginning the encore with his now-famous cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” He introduced the track as a song he used to sing back on the Pier. This time a couple thousand fans accompanied en masse.