Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real Open Their Hearts and Souls
The show in Madison was part of a 53-city tour in support of the band’s new album, A Few Stars Apart. Released in June 2021, the album has been received with wide acclaim as Nelson’s best effort yet.
Stepping out of the shadows
Lukas Nelson belongs to a sort of rarified class of royalty—the offspring of amazingly talented, world-famous entertainers. In this case, of course, the son of legendary Willie Nelson. In this arena, however, there is an even smaller group—those offspring who have made a place for themselves in the music business and have carved out their own niche.
Genetics results in inevitable comparisons between the sound of Lukas Nelson’s voice and his father, Willie’s. Yet, simply saying Lukas is a Willie clone or carbon copy would be a significant disservice to Lukas’ unique talents and songwriting skills. Nelson is a Grammy winner for his soundtrack work on the film A Star is Born, where he co-produced the soundtrack and co-wrote songs with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Nelson and POTR also appeared in the film as Bradley Cooper’s backing band.
Raised at homes in Hawaii and Texas, Lukas Nelson has lived on the road for virtually all of his life, first traveling with his father and then spending the decade or so before the pandemic constantly touring with his Promise of the Real bandmates. Nelson and POTR have collaborated with many musicians, including recording two studio albums with Neil Young, with whom POTR has been a regular backing band on the road.
The Covid pandemic, with its corresponding shut down, brought a crashing halt to Nelson’s touring. He spent most of 2020 hunkered down at his dad’s home in Austin, meditating, contemplating life, looking inward and writing the songs that would be included in A Few Stars Apart. In the fall of 2020, he collected his bandmates and traveled to Nashville, where they spent a couple weeks polishing and putting the final touches on the songs included in the new album.
Engaging the Crowd
The songs on the set list focused on Nelson’s newest album, but also included a retrospective of the band’s work over the years.
The band launched into the set with one of their early songs, “Start to Go,” a rocking thumping song about hard charging and moving on in life.
“Fool Me Once” is a down and dirty honky-tonk song about a love gone bad and highlighted the band’s backing vocals on the chorus.
“Four Letter Word” came up early in the set—a rockabilly, whimsical ballad about the folly of marrying too quickly. The band let loose during the song with Nelson and POTR’s bassist, Corey McCormick, doing some high kicking as they shredded through the song.
Each of the band members had their moments to shine during the set with extended solos. Logan Metz played a long piano solo which blended into “More Than We Can Handle.” An ode to resiliency in the face of adversity, “More Than You Can Handle,” Nelson’s singing sounded just like the crooning of his famous father. In the song, a family loses its home in a flood. They feel like they’ve lost everything, but realize that they will overcome with strength, love and even a bit of humor—’We saved the dog, then we decide we should save the kids too—Now we’re floating on a log, singing songs just to cheat the girls from crying, praying for the sun to dry their eyes.’
“Just Outside of Austin” came out next—Lukas Nelson’s love song to the city where he spent so much of his life and where he was based during the pandemic.
Nelson dedicated the song “Leave Em Behind” to a friend going through a rough relationship. The intro instantly brought to mind the iconic opening of “Ohio” written by Neil Young and performed by CSN&Y. Nelson’s ballad offers the support of friendship to one in an abusive relationship, as well as the need to escape in order save oneself. This was one of the songs where Lukas Nelson’s guitar skills were highlighted.
Nelson opened on the piano for “A Few Stars Apart,” the title song for the album. The origins of the song represented a moment of loss for Lukas Nelson during the pandemic. Nelson was in Austin when he learned of the death of a family friend in Hawaii—unreachable due to quarantines and travel restrictions. Looking up in the sky as he learned of her passing, he realized they were ‘just a few stars apart.’ Although separated from his family friend at her final moments, he sings poignantly that ‘you’re not alone.’
“Forget About Georgia” is Nelson’s memory of the pain of unrequited love – of loving someone almost magically but knowing they will never love you back in the same way. The protagonist prays to forget her, while secretly hoping she doesn’t forget about him. The crowd roared its appreciation when Lukas Nelson changed a phrase ‘we made love for the first time in a hotel in Wauwatosa.’
With his wailing vocals, Nelson brought out a little bit of a Marvin Gaye/Motown feel with “Find Yourself.” He even challenged the guys in the audience to sing the chorus ‘I hope you find yourself before I find somebody else to be my love.’
After a short break, Corey McCormick kicked off the first encore with an extended bass solo leading into “Wildest Dream,” which represents the kind of love we all hope for. All of the best memories that make a love one’s wildest dream.
Nelson showed his acoustic finger picking talents on “Entirely Different Stars,” about a dream of waking up in a world under entirely different stars ‘1000 miles south of Mars,’ free of war and not ruled by greed and fear. The pace changed up a couple of times during the song with extended guitar drifts reminiscent of “Space Oddity.”
“Smile,” the last song of A Few Stars Apart, led off the second encore. The song started off with Nelson solo on the piano singing about wonderful memories of love.
Tato Melgar’s drum jamming led into the final song of the night—the hard driving, guitar-shredding “Something Real.”
The Sylvee – Intimate Venue for World Class Talent
This review would not be complete without a few observations about The Sylvee, Madison Wisconsin’s newest live music venue. The building was built from scratch in 2018 and accomplishes its goal of offering one of the best venues for live music in middle America. With a total capacity of 2,500, The Sylvee offers an expansive area for fans to stand close to the stage, raised areas around the perimeter of the first floor allowing unobstructed views, reserved seating in the balcony and luxury suites on a second balcony.
The Sylvee was founded by the family behind Frank Productions, one of the largest and oldest independent concert promoters in the United States, responsible for bringing the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Bruce Springsteen to the Midwest.
Get to Know Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
While he’s been in the shadow of greatness his entire life, Lukas Nelson has worked tirelessly to forge his own path. He has honed his immense talents to a fine edge. An amazing guitarist and songwriter.
If you’ve not experienced Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, start with A Few Stars Apart. Then sample the band’s many other albums. You will rapidly become a fan!
For more information, including Lukas Nelson & POTR’s discography and tour dates, visit http://www.lukasnelson.com
Promise of the Real
Lukas Nelson (lead vocals, guitar)
Anthony LoGerfo (drums, percussion)
Corey McCormick (bass guitar, vocals)
Logan Metz (keyboards, lap steel, guitar, harmonica, vocals)
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real Set List
The Sylvee – Madison, WI, 9/28/2021
Start to Go
Throwing Away Your Love
Fool Me Once
Four Letter Word
Logan Metz keyboard solo
More Than We Can Handle
Just Outside of Austin
Leave Em Behind
A Few Stars Apart
Forget About Georgia
Corey McCormack bass solo
Entirely Different Stars