With the late October release of its sophomore album Chronicles of a Diamond, Austin psychedelic soul outfit Black Pumas arrived just under the wire to land in the Best Albums Of 2023 conversation (including WXPN’s own MEGA LIST, where it placed number 17). Everything about the band feels bigger, bolder, more emotionally rich and fully realized on the record. But how was this going to translate to a live show? Black Pumas’ promo images still featured only vocalist / frontperson Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada. As a packed house at The Fillmore Philly learned last night while the band kicked off its Chronicles of a Diamond tour, the Pumas go large onstage too, multiplying their ranks to make the music feel as massive in person as it does on headphones.
Fleshing out the sounds of Chronicles and the Pumas’ back catalog were backing vocalists Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes, keys player JaRon Marshall, bassist Brendan Bond, drummer Stephen Bidwell, and percussionist Terin Ector. With tasty licks and musical direction from Quesada emanating from stage left, the band proved itself to be skillful players but not overplayers. Everything was in service of the whole, and it was all wrapped up in a dazzling light show, with the stage bathed in deep purple for the Prince-esque groove of “Ice Cream (Pay Phone)” and later sparking with bubbling rainbow spots on “Colors” (which, tastefully, included a few bars of Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By”).
Without any of this, though, Burton would be an impressive presence all his own. As “Black Moon Rising” riffed and raged to a crescendo, he leapt around at the back of the stage before sprinting to the front to dive feet-first into the crowd. He shimmied, grooved, spun around, dipped the mic, and exuded a truly captivating charisma, whether the mood was the smoky psychedelic odyssey of “Confines” or the trippy soul of “OCT 33.”
Burton’s chattiness throughout the night was somewhat focused on his family being in the house (though the Pumas are rooted in Austin and Burton grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, he’s got relatives holding it down in Philly) and his unbridled enthusiasm for the opening set from hip-hop legends Digable Planets.
Speaking of bands leveling up with an array of members; the core DigPlans trio of Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira, and Germantown native Craig “Doodlebug” Irving was built up with Kassa Overall on drums, Thaddeus Turner on guitar, Darius Willrich on keys, Gerald Turner on bass, and Carlos Overall on tenor sax, and their 45-minute set of stone cold hip-hop classics from their two albums Blowout Comb and Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) was a joy to behold.
But the range of energy of Burton’s performance was downright riveting, and on the single “More Than A Love Song,” he and the Pumas locked in to ignite the crowd, later sending them home with even more gusto on the album-closer “Rock And Roll.”
“This is literally our first show back and you really turned it up for us,” said Burton. “I really appreciate it.” Black Pumas continue their tour tonight at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, before heading to a multi-night stand in Chicago, and if the rest of the country gets even a tenth of the energy the band brought to Philly last night, they’re in for a treat.