At the ripe age of 33, Lukas Nelson has, in some palpable way, arrived… as Lukas Nelson. He took the stage of the Arlington Theatre with his gutsy, neo-twangy country-rocking band Promise of the Real on August 24, and commanded the humble-but-assured charisma of a leader in his own right. As most know, he’s had a starry lineage and apprenticeship through his twentysomething era, playing with his iconic patriarch Willie, and with POTR serving as the crackling fine backup band for Neil Young.
Zoom forward, amidst POTR’s return to touring and an impressive new pandemic-era-spawned album, A Few Stars Apart, and Nelson’s personal musical identity feels more centered and seasoned than ever.
Clearly, Lukas’ vocal delivery tips the cowboy hat in the direction of his pa — though minus Willie’s loosey goosey, slightly jazz-inspired phrasing. Other parallels to his father’s operation include the presence of spinet piano in the band (played by the versatile Logan Metz), echoing the longtime presence in Willie’s band of pianist sister Bobbie Nelson. The recent passing of Bobbie, at 91 — who Willie described as his “best friend” — posthumously enhanced POTR’s piano factor.
Both tight and loose, in a desirable balance, Nelson and his band — which goes back 15 years now — seized the Arlington stage, in a friendly, inviting way. Nelson’s vocals were clean-powered, as was his tasty guitar work, such as the solo on “Find Yourself.”
One of the clever, autobiographical-twist-up tunes in the Nelson book is “(Forget About) Georgia,” from 2016’s Something Real, written about a former lover of the same name, which haunted Nelson’s nightly gig with his father when it came time to the Willie classic “Georgia.” From the following, and so far best-known, eponymous 2017 album, came such signature tunes as “Fool Me Once” (a nod to another Texan, George W. Bush), “Four Letter Word” (word being “forever”), and “Just Outside of Austin.”
Late in the set, a poignant moment arrived when Nelson was left alone with his guitar and Willie-esque voice, delivering an impassioned solo rendering of the Willie ballad “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” which Lukas called his favorite song. Following up the quasi-spiritual ambience, the encore opened with Metz playing “Closer, My God to Thee” on the organ, segueing into the gospel-fueled finale of “Set Me Down on a Cloud.”
Family tradition was in the house, and righteously on the road again.