It’s not easy following in the footsteps of a famous musical parent – and even less so when said parent happens to be the legendary Willie Nelson. However, since releasing their debut album in 2010, Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real have been quietly forging their own path. After wowing the audience at C2C Festival earlier this year, the five-piece are back in Europe for a short tour, including a sold-out show at The Garage in London.
Nelson and his band arrived on stage shortly after 9PM to loud cheers and opened their set with Entirely Different Stars. Right from the off the song highlighted Nelson’s ability as a guitar player with its sparse intro before launching into rattling, rocky riffs backed up by pounding drums. The drawl and gravel in Nelson’s voice were also on show and he and the band were clearly very into the performance. They finished with a long, heavy outro and the room absolutely erupted in applause.
Throughout the performance the band showed off their versatility as performers, with song styles ranging from the stomping Die Alone to the slinky, bluesy Fool Me Once and the laid-back honky-tonk vibes of Carolina. They also showed off their storytelling abilities on songs such as Runnin’ Shine and Four Letter Word, which were full of detail and created incredibly vivid characters. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that each band member got their chance to shine in solo sections on the raw, emotional Forget About Georgia. They’re all incredibly talented, but an honourable mention must go to bassist Corey McCormick, who could frequently be seen bouncing about on stage and did a great job of keeping the energy levels up during the show.
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I’d been very impressed with Nelson’s vocals and guitar playing during his performance on the C2C Spotlight Stage, and both of those were out in force last night. He’s got fantastic control over his voice, ranging from soulful touches on the pleading Little Girl to a yearning falsetto on a cover of Bell Bottom Blues and hitting some incredible long notes throughout the set. Nelson also showed off his excellent skills as a guitarist, particularly on Something Real where he played at breakneck speed and an impressive riff on Find Yourself. Whilst he seemed a little slow to get into the performance, the crowd spurred him on and within a few songs he was displaying some extremely expressive arm movements and facial expressions, as well as dropping to the floor, tossing his hair and leaping around the stage. There was plenty of fire in his performance and I loved the showmanship.
For me the highlight of the set was Nelson’s solo acoustic section, which came around two-thirds of the way through. He started the group of songs with the delicate, nostalgic Just Outside Of Austin, which got a huge reaction from the audience. The song put me in mind of Glen Campbell’s classic Gentle On My Mind and really brought out the richness in Nelson’s voice. He also performed a chilled-out take on Harvest Moon (which got the biggest cheer of the night) and a moving, dreamy version of Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground, a song his dad wrote which the two of them regularly performed together when Nelson was younger.
The band closed their set with a simple yet powerful cover of Paul Simon’s classic Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, where Nelson showed off the power in his voice as well as some funky dance moves, and the gospel-influenced Set Me Down On A Cloud. For me the latter song summed up the set. Nelson’s vocals were full of emotion, he played some searing riffs and there was a huge drum roll to finish. After loud demands from the crowd, they returned to play an acoustic version of the hopeful, wistful Build A Garden, before following it up with a full-on rendition of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil. Nelson gave a Jagger-esque performance, slinking about the stage and at times almost yelling whilst the crowd whooped along, before tossing his head back as his fingers flew up and down the neck of his guitar. After a short instrumental outro of Amazing Grace, the band finished on a crashing crowd and bowed as the crowd roared and hollered their approval.
Overall Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real delivered a performance that highlighted their strengths as a band as well as individually. Nelson is a passionate and intense performer with an incredible voice, and there’s fantastic chemistry between all five members that made them great fun to watch. They brought good old fashioned country-rock and blues to The Garage and, based on the rapturous response from the audience, hopefully it won’t be too long before they’re back in the UK – and playing much bigger venues.
Set list: 1. Entirely Different Stars 2. Die Alone 3. Fool Me Once 4. Runnin’ Shine 5. Carolina 6. Little Girl 7. Four Letter Word 8. Something Real 9. Just Outside Of Austin 10. Harvest Moon 11. Bell Bottom Blues 12. Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground 13. Forget About Georgia 14. Find Yourself 15. Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Soles 16. Set Me Down On A Cloud 17. Build A Garden 18. Sympathy For The Devil/Amazing Grace Performance date: 10th July 2018