It didn’t take long before spotting a Willie Nelson T-shirt—out on the street walking up to the Fonda–middle aged lady, tanned, a bit of an ex-hippie vibe to her. (Later on, having made her way toward to the front of the crowd, she’ll get a little tap from security to ease up on her dance moves that are clearing out people around her– a kind of hunched over bobbing thing with a lot of arms. There’s a lot of dancing on the floor tonight, various styles, various levels of ability and sobriety.)
You might (or I might at least) have feared more of this sort of thing–Willie Nelson fans coming out in droves for his kid’s band, Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real, out of allegiance to the elder. Or perhaps Neil Young fans just turning out given the Promise of the Real’s gig as his backing band. Turns out this all this is just in my head. There’s no need for worry about the whole escaping the shadow of legends tonight, it’s Lukas Nelson and POTR’s night through and through.
The crowd, perhaps a little older skewing, is more Stagecoach than Coachella–or split the difference and call it an Arroyo Seco crowd—the festival which they played this past June. There’s a festive, upbeat energy in the room all night. Lots of denim and boots and the odd cowboy hat; being LA, a little dress up isn’t unexpected. There are promising pockets of youngins and alt FYF types here and there for a taste of the real, which is heartening.
The show hits the ground running, wtih Lukas and POTR launching straight into a ripping take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl” right out of the gate. Lukas sports a familiar top hat in the tribute to the passing of that legend two days prior. The tone and the energy are high from the get go. This is the tour in support of their self titled 4th album and most of it is served up in pleasing rawer live takes tonight. We get “Carolina” (a Jimmy Buffet-worthy good time sing along), the epic new album opener “Set Me on a Cloud,” featuring a beautiful stormy pedal steel intro by Jesse Siebenberg (the six piece is rounded out by brother Micah and Tato Melgar on percussion, Anthony LoGerfo on drums and Corey McCormick on bass and vocals). The acoustic “Runnin’ Shine” (the echos of his dad particularly strong here), the sexy groove of “Find Yourself,” the driving riff of “Die Alone,” also among out the new album’s tracks on the set list.
There’s an a solo acoustic break where Lukas drops a stunning sparse cover of another Petty classic, “Breakdown,” knocking out the crowd. He follows with an earnest cover of his dad’s “Healing Hands of Time,” the elder Nelson’s familiar throaty quaver particularly coming through his son’s voice on it—it’s goosebump inducing. The show peaks with a raucous near 10-minute cover of the Doors’ “LA Woman,” which even somehow working Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” riff for a bit Hot stuff.
Lukas and the POTR band, now nearly a decade together since their So Cal formation roots, have taken their roots and inspirations and turned it into something very much their own thing–a fairly singular mix of country (more “outlaw” than traditional), 70‘s rock, blues, some folk, a bit of soul and hell, even a dip into African pop by way of a Paul Simon cover (Graceland’s “Diamonds on the Souls of her Feet”) It’s a heady melange of genres that just works. Lukas himself is a becoming a formidable frontman, punctuating songs with sharp, fiery solos, impressively sung held notes, often delivered with his arm raised hight. His confidence and charisma already verging on that of his inspirations. As a whole, there’s no mistaking what the band’s doing for anything by their affiliated legends; they’re blazing their own trail.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real | lukasnelson.com