CAUGHT: Black Pumas

@ Austin City Limits Taping 8.28.19

All photos republished courtesy of KLRU/Austin City Limits

Jeff McCord / KUTX Music Editor

When Austin musicians are fortunate enough to get their first Austin City Limits call, you never quite know what to expect. For many, it’s their first national television taping, and the import hangs like Texas humidity in the room. Plus, they’re playing in front of an audience peppered with friends and family. It’s enough to make the most practiced musicians jumpy.

Adrian Quesada
Photo courtesy KLRU/Austin City Limits. Photo by Scott Newton

In many ways, the Black Pumas are a happy accident. Adrian Quesada is one of the city’s most gifted musicians and producers, but he doesn’t sing. His various projects over the years (Brownout, Ocote Soul Sounds, Echocentrics, etc.) have featured a lot of instrumentals, and many different guest vocalists over his patented hypno-grooves. None stuck  – until he heard Eric Burton, an LA transplant who was busking downtown on Congress not so long ago. Burton’s powerful voice fit Quesada’s sound like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Even better, Burton was also bringing along his own material. They formed a potent partnership.

After one of the longest buildups in music history, the Pumas finally released their debut album on June 21st, and promptly hit the road. They left Austin a special band. They came back even better. And aided by three sweat-soaked local warm-up shows at the Mohawk, they hit the ACL stage with the swagger of James Brown at the Apollo.

Photo courtesy KLRU/Austin City Limits. Photo by Scott Newton

From the beginning, Burton commanded your attention, prowling around the stage and into the audience, his voice channeling the magnetism of Marvin Gaye (even down to the ‘Let’s Get It On’ era red hat), whisper quiet at times, then swelling to fill the room. Aside from some old-school audience patter (“Can you feel the love on the left side?”), Burton said little, briefly acknowledging it was a special night only late into the set. And for locals accustomed to Quesada’s backbone work from the sidelines, seeing him step into the limelight with sonic guitar bursts proved exhilarating.

After a somewhat meandering opener, the band locked in. They took their time building each song, intensity coming in waves, while the elongated arrangements allowed them to dig deep inside the material. It was soulful, simmering. And surprising. Their best-known songs – “Black Moon Rising”, “Colors” – appeared early in the set, while deep cuts like “Oct 33”, “Know You Better” and “Stay Gold” earned rapt ovations. The band flowed from one durable groove to the next, and by the set’s end, when it was hard to imagine wanting anything more, they returned for one more song – a psychedelic take on ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Exiting all smiles, they left no doubt they had done the job they came to do.

Photo courtesy KLRU/Austin City Limits. Photo by Scott Newton

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