Early on in a set before a sold-out crowd at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles, Eric Burton, the lead singer of Black Pumas, took a moment to remark on how far he’d come while, really, not going that far at all.
See, Burton was born in LA’s suburban San Fernando Valley and grew up in the church and on musical theater stages. It wasn’t long ago that he was busking on the iconic Santa Monica Pier, bringing in sometimes several hundred dollars a day with a silky smooth voice evoking a new age Sam Cooke. More recently, still, were the days he spent doing the same at the corner of 6th Street and Congress in Austin, Texas. There, Eric caught the ear of many, including that of a friend of Grammy-winning guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada.
Now, some seven months after making major waves at South By Southwest, here was Burton—alongside Quesada and the rest of their seven-piece band—serenading a packed house of 1,100 revelers on a Wednesday night in October. Amid that milieu, it was easy to see and, more importantly, hear how Black Pumas had come so far, so fast in the music world and why the group is poised to fly even higher.
First and foremost are, of course, the songs. From the brooding beats of “Black Moon Rising” and eventual uplift of “Colors” to the earnest balladeering of “OCT 33” and funky groove of “Old Man”, Black Pumas sport a small but sizzling catalog of tracks that are at once rooted in timeless R&B and entirely modern in their fusion of sonic strains.
And that’s just from one, eponymous album. Through their 90-minute set, Black Pumas played most their debut LP, including the heel-tapping rhythms of “Fire”, while saving room for a selection of covers. They paid homage to Bobby “Blue” Bland with a rocking rendition of “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”, honored Etta James with a scintillating song in her name, and brought out Neal Francis, who served as the opener, to close out the evening with the entire audience singing to Crazy Horse’s “Dirty, Dirty”.
All the while, Quesada wailed away with his acid-tinged guitar work as Burton showed off the prodigious pipes and impressive range that brought him full circle—and then some. The latter alternated between gritty and angelic with uncommon ease, as if altering the texture of the sound so drastically were as simple as swiping left or right on a dating app.
So far, Black Pumas seem to be keepers themselves. That obvious talent and potential across the board made it all the more special to see this band in its infancy, laying so much of its material on the table because there’s only so much to put out there.
If the group’s trajectory to date is any indication, it won’t be long before its discography grows, along with the capacity crowds to which it plays. Between Burton’s simultaneously raw and refined ability, Quesada’s track record of superb production and the rest of the band’s tight role-playing, Black Pumas should soon be found taking top billing—with the words “SOLD OUT” emblazoned beneath them—at bigger and bigger venues near you.
For a list of upcoming Black Pumas tour dates, head here.
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from the show via photographer Josh Martin.
Setlist: Black Pumas | Regent Theater | Los Angeles, CA | 10/23/19
Set: Intro, Next to You, More Than a Love Song, Red Rover, Old Man, Know You Better, Black Moon Rising, Mrs. Postman, Stay Gold, Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City (Bobby “Blue” Bland cover), I Am Ready, OCT 33, Etta James, Colors
Encore: Dirty, Dirty* (Crazy Horse cover)
*with Neal Francis