BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Triumphantly returning to the Bay Area three months after enthralling a crowd of 40,000 fans at BottleRock, Austin’s Black Pumas wasted little time making their mark on a far more intimate crowd Wednesday night in the first of two performances at The Masonic in San Francisco.
While their avid fans would most certainly disagree, the band remains criminally unheralded to the masses in spite of four Grammy nominations (including Best New Artist in 2020) and numerous appearances on late night television including a recently broadcast gig on Austin City Limits. A random sampling of audience members showed attendees coming from at least as far away as Morgan Hill and Lake Tahoe in the midst of a chilly wintry downpour. Many were seeing the psychedelic soul band for the first time and no one had seen them prior to their September appearance in Napa.
Similarities to Gary Clark Jr. and Vintage Trouble are noticeable, but the added showmanship and stage presence of Burton, a 32-year old one-time busker on the Santa Monica pier, and Adrian Quesada, the Black Pumas guitarist and producer, really propel the Pumas to another level. A keyboardist, bassist, drummer and two backup vocalists joined the mix. Their self-titled debut album in 2019 is their only studio release (subsequently re-released in an expanded deluxe version with an additional 11 tracks that were either previously unreleased or recorded live), but there wasn’t anything close to filler in their generous 19-song set.
Taking the stage for a highly enjoyable one hour and 45 minute show that conveyed a positive upbeat energy throughout, lead singer Eric Burton was quick to introduce himself to his audience as he almost immediately went straight from his entrance to the stage into the audience to deliver an 11-minute introduction segueing into “Next to You” as the bands opener. Following up with “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City,” Burton already had the crowd singing along to every verse.
Sharply dressed in a button down brown jacket with complimentary cowboy hat, Burton engaged the crowd all night long, frequently accentuating his delivery by personalizing it with calls of “San Fran” throughout the show. The crowds biggest reaction came during the set closing “Colors,” arguably the Pumas most popular song. A thorough sing-a-long, it was a 2021 nominee for Record of the Year. It actually raised some eyebrows when he finally said “San Francisco” for the first time during the bands two-song encore of “Angel” and “Fire” near the end of the evening. Coming full circle to end the night the way it began, he jumped off the stage a second time to finish the evening back on the floor, singing and dancing in the middle of a highly approving and appreciative audience.
Soulful and vibrant, lively and thoroughly entertaining, the Black Pumas have a very bright future. Hopefully we’ll have a follow-up album of new material in the coming year. Don’t be surprised if their next headlining gig in San Fran is at a much larger venue. Following Thursday night’s second show at The Masonic, the band is scheduled for what’s sure to be a celebratory performance Saturday night at the House of Blues in Las Vegas.