Black Pumas brought their four-time Grammy-nominated music to Madison Friday, Oct. 15, playing a high-energy show that showed the sold-out crowd why the band is entitled to all the praise they are given.

While “Colors” is far more popular than most of their other songs, they proved that they are no one-hit-wonder.

Opener Neal Francis put on an incredible set, after which I was slightly worried that the opener had stolen the show from the headliner. Francis’ funk and soul fusion dripped with groove, cordoning off large sections of each song to jam and solidify the vibe of the song.

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His most popular song “Changes” was a perfect example of this, with the song’s two distinct parts allowing for the band to show off their chops. They created an incredibly full sound and a strongly driven groove, augmented by Francis’ solos on his Clavinet keyboard, modified to have a whammy bar.

From their music to their outfits, watching Francis and his band felt like the entire crowd had been transported to the 70s. The band’s playful and loose style created a fun atmosphere in preparation for the headliner, but it was still very clear that each member of the band knew their instruments backwards and forwards.

I was unsure at first, but luckily, the Black Pumas put on an incredible enough show that ensured they were not upstaged by Francis. Just before they took the stage, “Because” by The Beatles played over the speakers and their large puma logo on the back wall was lit up a dark red. From then on, it was clear that the band meant business.

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From the outset, all eyes were on lead singer Eric Burton. His energy was infectious from the moment he stepped on stage — Burton jumped off the stage in the first song to show the fans his devotion. Throughout the set, he repeatedly thanked the audience for returning after a year and a half and expressed his affection for Madison, noting that the audience at The Sylvee was more engaged than those from previous shows.

Where opener Neal Francis and his band were loose and flowy, the Pumas were tight and concise. They didn’t jam for long periods of time, except where the R&B-feel of songs like “Mrs. Postman” allowed it. When guitarist and Black Pumas co-founder Adrian Quesada did take a solo, it was always a ripper.

Quesada’s sparse but necessary playing sometimes acted as much as a percussion instrument as a melodic implement. When not laying down a solo, he allowed his sound to blend with the rest of the rhythm section and create a soundscape for Burton’s vocals to shine in.

One of the show’s highlights came when Burton got the audience involved for a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” The song’s repeated chorus created an easy way for the sold-out crowd to feel connected to the show, with Burton, Quesada and the rest of the band filling in the verses with an extra-soulful rendition of the 1974 classic.

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The band began to wrap up their set with “OCT 33,” a powerful number allowing Burton to show off his energetic stage presence and generally-stoic drummer Stephen Bidwell to showcase his talents more than usual. The set was closed by fan-favorite “Colors.”

In 2021, the song was nominated for Record of the Year and Best American Roots Performance, and it was clear to the entire audience why. The song implores the listener to take a moment to appreciate the beauty around them — with such incredible instrumentation, the crowd had no choice but to heed the song’s message.

To begin the encore, Burton appeared on the venue’s upper balcony to perform his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The singer explained that he had performed the song on the Santa Monica Pier before ever being discovered or meeting Quesada.

The song’s performance was beautifully arranged and clearly meaningful to Burton as part of his journey.

The entire audience was caught by surprise when the band closed the show with a rendition of Bobby Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” The cover was infused with a unique mix of funk and hard rock, giving new energy to the song. The song was a fantastic way to end the show, with Burton and backup singers Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes creating a haunting chord to end the entire show.

The concert was engaging from start to finish, with Francis and the Pumas giving the crowd hit after hit. The lights continually added to the spectacle, adding to each song as much as possible — bathing the stage in golden hues for “Stay Gold” was an obvious but welcome choice.

The talent of each member was clear, with the entire band creating an experience that the audience will not soon forget.