Late in the evening, long after a packed Canton Hall had lost itself in a blissful fog of sinuous grooves, searing guitar licks and soulful vocals, Black Pumas’ Eric Burton made a confession.
“I’m embarrassed by how much fun we’re having,” the gimme cap-clad singer told the adoring, sold-out crowd Thursday night, which responded — as it often had over the course of the night — with raucous affirmation.
It’s not hard to see why Burton might feel a bit bashful about the band’s persistent good fortune — it has been a very, very good year.
The core of the Austin-based Black Pumas — vocalist-guitarist Burton and guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada — first connected three years ago, and it’s been an upward trajectory ever since. In 2019, trailing critical hosannas and building buzz, the band released its self-titled debut LP and earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist, with an appearance on The Tonight Show booked for early next week.
Even the Pumas’ current swing through town, its first trip back after a midsummer appearance at the Kessler Theater last year, resembles a victory lap: Three sold-out nights, one at Canton Hall on Thursday and another two at the Kessler on Friday and Saturday, along with a Saturday afternoon in-store appearance at Josey Records.
Although Black Pumas is anchored by Burton and Quesada’s alchemy, the pair was augmented with five additional musicians on Thursday: drummer Stephen Bidwell, vocalists Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller, keys player JaRon Marshall and bassist Brendan Bond, all of whom added texture, color and crunch to the hypnotic songs, which skate freely across genre lines, touching upon R&B, soul, funk and hallucinatory, Latin-tinged rock.
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It’s a potent, intoxicating stew, one which spills off the stage and into the crowd, many of whom were lost in dance throughout the night. (That spill was nearly literal at one point: “I almost fell off the stage for y’all, Dallas,” Burton exclaimed early on.)
The occasionally claustrophobic conditions inside Canton Hall — the room often felt on the verge of bursting at the seams — nevertheless created an intimacy that only intensified what Black Pumas was pumping out.
The roughly 75-minute set pulled heavily from the band’s eponymous debut — there was grit but also glory; it was trippy, but also tender.
Uplifting single “Colors” seemed to stop time; “Stay Gold” was a gripping slow burn, punctuated with a scorching Quesada solo; “OCT 33” gave Burton’s vivid falsetto a hairline crack, threatening to shatter before spilling into an extraordinary climax; and “Know You Better,” the evening’s pinnacle, floated from psychedelia into a grand, glorious conflagration of lights, sound and sensation.
Time and again, Black Pumas would seize on a phrase or a melody or a moment and simply let it breathe, repeating it until it became nearly trance-like, as the music ebbed and flowed. The cumulative impact was exhilarating — a room full of strangers united by a band having a moment sharing songs that made it hard to tumble back out into the night with anything other than an enormous grin on your face and warmth in your heart. You could even call it fun.