Since the self-titled debut album prompted a Best New Artist Grammy nomination in 2019, the sui generis duo of singer-songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist-producer Adrien Quesada has taken the world by storm. With a timbre delving into the waters of the psychedelic and funky, Black Pumas have fast-tracked a steady residence in the soundscape of tomorrow. Even with their flair for the dramatics with harmonies and instrumentals of epic proportion, their Dec. 15 concert at the Masonic had the intimacy of a backyard art show attended by friends and defined by familiarity.
No moment made this atmosphere more apparent than when Burton physically broke the traditional barrier of artist and audience by jumping directly into the crowd seconds into the first song of the night — a cover of “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, featured on the deluxe edition of Black Pumas. In the sultry warmth of fuchsia and scarlet lights, Burton’s stunning tone serenaded the crowd that instantly swarmed around him. His voice has the clarity of plunging into ice-cold water, shocking one’s system with never-ending refrains reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s soul.
Listening to any Black Pumas record makes it obvious that their songs were designed to play live, and their concert only confirms it: Any aspect of the night that could be made interactive was. Following Burton’s conducting, the audience became a physical symphony as he taught it how to sing along with the xylophone of “Know You Better.” “Sway with me,” he shouted into the mic, the crowd eagerly obeying.
It was in this song that Burton took a moment to highlight the two backup singers, Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes. Over the audience’s humming, the two sang their introductions with charisma and swagger, uplifting each other’s strong voices. As the songs continued, each band member had their moment to shine, making it known that they could each carry a solo show. It is with that scope of pure talent that made the Black Pumas show truly transcendent in both recording and concert.
The band was at their best at the end of “Know You Better” as the three vocalists overlaid belts, practically competing but ultimately blending into what can only be described as beautiful destruction. Each member turned to face one another as they deconstructed the once-soft romantic ballad into hard rock. Strobe lights illuminated the Black Pumas emblem hanging over the stage as chaos was rendered divine.
As flashing white lights transitioned into captivating red, purple and blue, “Black Moon Rising,” one of the band’s more popular songs, resonated through the venue. Capturing the cinematics of Black Pumas’ sound with Burton’s incredible range resounding from the speakers, synthesized violin smoldered under the syncopated and bluesy stylings of Quesada. Though most of his work through the night functioned as part of the band’s instrumentation, his few moments in the spotlight were evidence of a fact already known — the man can play. Each time he stepped forward for his captivating solos, the crowd erupted into cheers, hanging on to every pluck and strum.
Before the band exited the stage, the hypnotic guitar intro of “Colors” sent the crowd into a frenzy. In that moment, it felt as if the whole world knew every word, the audience singing as Technicolor lights illuminated the faces of every band and crowd member. As the song came to an end, a demand for an encore led to the playing of an unreleased song. Blue in tone and in hue, Burton’s magnetic vocals and the stage’s lights brought the energy from “Colors” to a melancholic state.
With a final cry of “It feels like live music,” Burton entered the audience once again, exiting through the front doors and into what the future holds. And if Black Pumas have anything to say about the future, it will certainly be funky, magnificent and something completely new.