Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 20, 2017
Lukas Nelson, yep, Willie’s son, mmm hmm, sounds remarkably similar in voice, yada yada yada. We get that out of the way because it’s a little cliché by now, although Nelson certainly had to know what he was signing up for in the wake of his dad’s more-than-60 year career as a legend of country and popular music—and sounding a little, or a lot, like dear old dad ain’t exactly something to sweat. But the even better news is that Lukas is doing a damn fine job carving his own path while staying true to his pedigree: His music goes deep, sounds great loud or soft, tugs at downright Willie-like strands of universal truth and heartache, and is a rollicking good time, through and through.
Nelson and his stalwart band, Promise of the Real, closed a slam-bang tour last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, showing he and they have learned a lot from two musical fathers, Willie, of course, and also Neil Young, whose been backed by Promise of the Real off and on for the last two years. But the takeaway is that Lukas isn’t the second coming of either Willie or Young so much as the first coming of Lukas Nelson. His was a gutsy, emotional, genre-hopping set, heavy with material from Promise of the Real’s outstanding eponymous 2017 album, and full feeling at just over an hour and a half. Behind the throttle of a six-piece band that incorporated soulful keys as often as it did gnarly pedal steel, it was possible to call this good-time rock and roll without further pinning it down, although the show had everything from country and soul to ragged blues and bar-band boogie.
“Set Me Down on a Cloud” soared like a gospel tune, while “Four Letter Word” and “Die Alone” were roughed-up rock, sometimes in an early ’70s Stones vein. “Fool Me Once” was a Lukas tune that seemed to straddle honky-tonk and R&B, shot through with gorgeous organ. “Just Outside of Austin” sounded like Willie, but perhaps even more like Glen Campbell, unpretentious and introspective. Throughout, Nelson and team showed a knack for set-list composition, including a mid-show acoustic set and also throwing in some Tom Petty (an acoustic, slow-swinging “Breakdown” with superb crowd accompaniment and a thrilling “American Girl”), and, in perhaps an early Thanksgiving nod to The Last Waltz, the Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with opener Nikki Lane and members of her band. If there was a standout, it might have been the stand-back-or-get-bowled-over “Forget About Georgia,” which sounded like what old Willie might if he were in a howling mood and fronting Crazy Horse. It began as a bleary-eyed honky-tonk croon and, over 10-plus minutes, mutated into a wailing guitar squall. It was raw and real, no promises needed. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson
Photos courtesy of Marc Millman Photography | www.marcmillmanphotos.