I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real a number of times, beginning with his wild airborne performance at Arden Gild Hall in 2012. It was more of a rock show and felt like an intentionally different direction than his father (Willie Nelson) took. I knew immediately that he was going to be too big to ever play Arden again. Next up was the Queen in 2015, a show that for some reason sold poorly and that lack of crowd energy definitely affected the performance. In 2018, he played a strong set at Firefly, but still not at the level I’d seen him at in 2012. It was more laid-back, definitely moving more in the direction of his father’s work, and got a fantastic response from the huge crowd. So here we were in 2023, and five years since I’d last seen them. It was only the second show on the tour, which has always seemed to lead to interesting surprises.
Nelson and the band kicked off with “Sticks and Stones,” the title track to his new album and a balanced classic country song that set the tone well for the night. Balanced is the word that comes to mind for the concert in general, as it was a little bit of everything. Next up they dove into a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her,” building up the crowd energy with sing-a-long energy as the song rose higher and higher. It was already getting interesting.
Logan Metz was sublime on keys and his intro “Piano Explosion of Goodness” leading into “Just Outside of Austin” was another unexpected moment that set a different tone in the show. Also, the jangly Byrds-tinged “Where Does Love Go” was another shift into a different genre that was handled with excellence. It was also a nice transition into a three-song acoustic solo set that began with “When I Started Over” and ended with an introspective version of “Breath of My Baby” from Nelson and POTR’s 2017 self-titled album, his voice sounding more and more like his father’s.
The show went out strong as the raging “Drum Fantasy Dance” wove its way into what was my favorite song of the set, “Something Real,” from his 2016 album of the same name. It’s basically a country-tinged rock song with a massive guitar solo from Lukas and a full-on crowd freakout. “Set Me Down On A Cloud” followed, a classic Neil Young-inspired track was an excellent way to close out the night.
It was a balanced show, but in the best of ways. It showed the band’s range and control of energy, weaving through diverse songs and setups like a seasoned entertainer. It’s really nice to see the evolution of this artist as he and his amazing band craft their way to excellence.