While we at Austin City Limits cast our musical net far and wide, we have a special place in our hearts for hometown talent. So we were thrilled to present the fast-rising Austin act Black Pumas, led by singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada, who’s no stranger to our stage due to his work with Grupo Fantasma. Joined by a five-piece band, the duo gave us a burning hot set (which we live streamed around the world) of rock, funk and soul.
The audience extended these hometown heroes a warm welcome as they came onstage, setting a level of excitement as the band dived into the simmering soul groove of “Next to You,” with Burton showing off his husky pipes and slinky dance moves. The singer donned a guitar for “Colors,” a midtempo charmer from the group’s self-titled debut, highlighted by nifty solos from Quesada and keyboardist JaRon Marshall. New song “Black Cat” followed, blending a sixties-derived melody with a modern rock feel – a sound that moved Burton to join the crowd on the floor, to their delight. “Old Man” segued into seventies funk with a smoky descending groove anchored by a Latin bridge, while “Know You Better” charged into moodier territory while still keeping the rhythm alive. “Black Moon Rising,” the Pumas’ original calling card, stayed with the same groove without losing steam or heat.
Some louder guitar licks signaled another new tune: the funky “I Am Ready,” accented by more Burton dance moves. He re-donned his guitar for the undulating “Stay Gold,” an anthem for positivity and good will. The former Congress Ave. busker then gave thanks to both Quesada and the crowd for his current career position, before jumping right into the hard-grooving “Fire.” An insistent electric piano lick and more Burton steps powered the sinuous “More Than a Love Song,” while the singer’s powerful voice and Quesada’s psychedelic solos made the ballad “Confines” soar into lighterwaving territory. The group brought back that soulful, brooding seethe for “OCT 33,” whose mystery came wrapped in a lush package. The Pumas ended the set with the explosive “Etta James,” with Burton paying tribute to the R&B great while Quesada smoked on guitar.
The audience applauded rapturously, but of course that wasn’t the final tune. The band came back, with Burton leaping into the crowd for high-fives, with a surprising cover choice. The Pumas deftly transformed the Beatles’ string-quartet masterpiece “Eleanor Rigby” into a snarling soul rocker, paying tribute to Ray Charles’ radical rearrangement more than the original. Quesada ripped up his fretboard, while Burton and backup singers Angela Miller and Lauren Horsby anchored the song in the church mentioned in the lyrics. The audience cheered the Austin homeboys wildly, as well they should have. It was a great showcase for the power of Austin music, and we’re excited for you to see it early next year on your local PBS station.