Lukas Delivers Both Halves of the Nelson

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivered a powerful show Monday night at the House of Blues.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivered a powerful show Monday night at the House of Blues. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Sitting down prior to Lukas Nelson’s performance at the House of Blues, an audience member couldn’t help but wonder which Lukas might show up. Would the audience get the rowdy rock and roller that backed Neil Young for a few years, or would the sensitive troubadour show up with an acoustic guitar cradled in his arms?

Happily, the crowd got both halves of the Nelson. Accompanied by his band Promise of the Real, Nelson explored a variety of musical landscapes over the course of the evening. Accordingly, he is a difficult artist to pigeonhole or even describe, as he draws on a variety of genres (rock, country, blues, folk, and soul) to create his singular sound. Kind of like a well-adjusted Ryan Adams. How’s that?

Nelson opened strong with “Start to Go,” a slamming rocker from his debut EP, released in 2009. He has grown as a performer and a songwriter since then, but the youthful exuberance of the tune made for a perfect introduction to an eclectic evening of music. Nelson has mentioned the influence that Stevie Ray Vaughan (not to mention Jimi Hendrix!) had on his playing when he first picked up the guitar, and the inspiration was evident in his performance.

Most of the movement onstage was provided by Nelson and bassist Corey McCormick. Wearing hats with wide, flat brims, they roamed the stage during the fast songs, Nelson whipping his hair around and McCormick executing some nifty dance steps. Their moves never seemed contrived or affected. Rather, they were genuine expressions of transcendence. No poseurs here, these guys just love to play music, and to share it with their audience.

The band’s “utility infielder” is Logan Metz, who provided tasteful accompaniment on keyboards, lap steel, and banjo. Like Metz, drummer Anthony LoGerfo never overplayed. Displaying a sensitivity to dynamics that is, unfortunately, rare among many of his colleagues, LoGerfo alternated between sticks, brushes, and mallets to give each song a different character, making the most of his minimalist drum kit.
click to enlarge The rock and roller and sensitive troubadour both showed up. - PHOTO BY VIOLETA ALVAREZ
The rock and roller and sensitive troubadour both showed up.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Nelson and crew are touring behind their most recent album A Few Stars Apart, and they played a number of songs from the record during the early portion of the show. Notable were “Perennial Bloom (Back to You)” and “More Than We Can Handle,” both of which feature soaring choruses. Nelson makes his lyrics count in songs like “Leave ‘em Behind,” which he introduced by explaining that it was written for a friend in an abusive relationship. Nelson’s counsel? “If you love yourself, you’ve got to leave ‘em behind.”

It has been said that one does a disservice to artists by describing their music in terms of other acts. Not only that, with some musicians it really pisses them off. Nevertheless, it must be reported – in the most positive way possible – that early in the show, hints of The Band, Neil Young, and John Prine were evident. During the jams that became more frequent and more lengthy during the latter part of the night, echoes of the Allman Brothers, Humble Pie, and Santana were heard. It sounds like Promise of the Real grew up listening constantly to a masterfully curated record collection.

All members of the band were given generous solo spots, but the crowd favorite was McCormick, playing both electric upright and Fender-style bass during his star turn, who generated the most excitement. He upped the rock and roll quotient by sliding a bit of Van Halen’s “Eruption” into the proceedings, after which Nelson remarked, “I miss Eddie.”

The encore began with “The Awakening,” leading into “Give Me Something Real” after a few intriguing side trips, one of which was an extended call-and-response exchange with the audience. It was my goal to write this piece without mentioning Nelson’s paternity, but one cannot ignore that genetics have given him a voice that bears a striking resemblance to his father’s. Not all the time, just on certain words and sustained notes. It is wonderful to hear, if only for a moment, what it would sound like if Willie had chunked his country career in the late ‘60s and moved to San Francisco, maybe even wearing flowers in his hair.

Since resuming concert attendance a few months ago, I have had some not-so-great experiences at shows, making me wonder if the value / benefit curve was still in positive territory. Primary points of annoyance have included people talking loudly during songs, mismanaged parking and traffic flow, inattentive venue staff, and long, slow lines for everything. I am happy to report that Nelson’s show was a pleasure to attend. The House of Blues staff was professional and efficient, and the crowd was genial and polite, holding doors for folks and allowing others to go first while ordering at the bar.

Ah, if they could all be like this. A joyful evening of music, performed by gifted musicians for an attentive audience.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
House of Blues
November 8, 2021
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Contributor Tom Richards is a broadcaster, writer, and musician. He has an unseemly fondness for the Rolling Stones and bands of their ilk.
Contact: Tom Richards