Black Pumas, Austin's newest big stars, bring their act to ACL Fest's big stage
"Austin, Texas! Don't it feel good to be back?"
No doubt the thousands of Black Pumas fans who crowded around Austin City Limits Music Festival's Lady Bird Stage agreed — but if they weren't sure, frontman Eric Burton gave them plenty more chances to respond. "Austin, Texas" shoutouts ran through the award-winning Austin group's set like mulch-fill through the soggy Zilker Park grounds, reminding us that the Pumas are our latest major musical force to arrive on the scene.
Last week, the band won duo/group of the year honors at the Americana Music Awards in Nashville. They didn't win the Grammys' best new artist category earlier this year, but just being one of the nominees for that big-time honor was impressive. And if you've watched TV at all in the last few months, you've almost certainly heard their song "Colors" floating through ads for Target.
The Pumas played a feel-good, hourlong set that offered pleasant dance grooves for the sizable (but not too crowded) audience that assembled just before sunset. Masks were rarely spotted (despite supposed "mask zones" near the stage outlined on the ACL Fest website), but audience members mostly didn't pack in up front like sardines.
The seven-piece ensemble, sparked by co-founding guitarist Adrian Quesada's frequently stinging and soulful solos, consistently gave Burton solid backing for his vocal flights on crowd favorites such as "Know You Better" and "Black Moon Rising." Burton engaged the crowd to participate with handclaps on "I'm Ready" and arm-waves on "Oct 33," then tossed out a special treat with a solo rendition of the first verse and chorus of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" (which Burton used to play on Austin's downtown streets as a busker before Black Pumas formed).
A gloriously drawn-out performance of "Colors" got the crowd dancing as the band built to an a cappella finale, with Burton urging the crowd to sing along. He shouted out one last "Welcome back, Austin Texas!" before the band departed … but wait, they still had six minutes left!
The band quickly returned, Burton explaining that "they told us we had a few more minutes, can we do one more for you, Austin?" A soulful, bluesy, deeply reworked version of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" followed before the band and Burton, decked out in a black AC/DC T-shirt, departed, making way for an 8 p.m. George Strait headlining set. Never let it be said that ACL Fest doesn't cover a lot of bases.