In a recent appearance on comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, Lukas Nelson talked about how he likes, in his shows, to just play his songs with a minimum of superfluous chatter. That’s what he and his band, Promise of the Real, recently did at the 9:30 Club before a packed house.
Lukas modeled his shows on his dad’s concerts. He’s the son of legendary Outlaw Willie Nelson. Music is the Nelson family business; all of Willie’s kids have followed him into the business, with Lukas being the most successful. On that same podcast, Lukas talked about what it was like growing up with Willie for a father. Willie was often away touring, he said, but during the times when he was home, he was a “fun dad.”
Lukas’s vocals have a reedy quality and tone similar to his dad’s. He inherited Willie’s instrumental prowess, though he favors the electric guitar as opposed to the acoustic Willie plays — but he did a few songs on acoustic. Whether he was on electric or acoustic, his playing was impressive at 9:30 Club on Nov. 12. And, like his dad, he’s a great songwriter. He’s also worked as a producer and music consultant, putting together the soundtrack for the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga version of A Star Is Born.
In addition to making his own music, Lukas and his band have spent the past several years touring with and backing Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young. Lukas acknowledged the connection to Neil by playing “Comes A Time” at the beginning of his 9:30 Club encore and wishing the Canadian rock legend a happy birthday (he turned 78 Sunday). While Willie is clearly an influence on his son, Lukas also takes after Neil in his mix of countrified twang and hard rock. It’s not surprising that Lukas’s music is described as Americana, as both Willie and Neil are among the biggest influences on the (sub)genre. Lukas also acknowledged his day by playing a medley of his “Ladder of Love” and Willie’s “Bloody Mary Morning.”
Earlier this year, the band released Sticks & Stones to some of their strongest reviews yet. They opened the set with the title cut, followed by “Every Time I Drink,” a classic brokenhearted tear-in-my-beer honky-tonker. Drinking plays a big part in the album, nowhere more than “Alcoholelujah.”
Watch the official music video for “Alcohallelujah” by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real on YouTube:
The album also draws on Greek mythology in “Icarus,” riffing on the story of the boy who flew too close to the sun, causing the wax wings built by his father to melt, sending him plummeting to his death in the sea below. Late in the set, he played two more cuts from the album, “View” and “Wrong House.”
There were plenty of old favorites in the set, too: “Fool Me Once,” “Forever, “Just Outside of Austin,” “(Forget About) Georgia,” “Carolina,” “All The Pretty Horses” (which takes its name from novel that gave the late Cormac McCarthy his commercial breakthrough and was adapted into a major Hollywood film), “Ain’t Gonna Die,” “Throwin’ Away Your Love,” and “Smile.” Lukas played “Just Outside of Austin” and “Throwin’ Away Your Love” solo on acoustic guitar, and “Smile” solo on the piano. He closed the main set with “Find Yourself.” I have a suggestion: if you’re trying to find yourself, wherever you go, there you are!
The crowd at the 9:30 Sunday was really hot for Lukas and his band. After he played “Set Me Down On A Cloud,” which would have ended the show, the crowd got so loud he indulged them with a second encore, playing “Something Real.” While the crowd was hot, they were also respectful, listening carefully to the songs. I think there’s something about Lukas’s vibe — which is similar to his dad’s — a calm presence which brings out the best in people. And these songs are absolutely worth listening to: Lukas is a first-rate musician and songwriter, and the Promise of the Real is a fantastic live band.