He may have been born with one foot in the door (being Willie Nelson’s son and all), but Lukas Nelson is one of the hardest working performers you’ll ever seen on stage. On tour for his stellar self-titled record with his band Promise of the Real, Nelson held the room at Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 20th in the palm of his hand last week with the first of his many luscious, warm vocal runs. The 28-year-old Nelson comes across wise beyond his years, playing his guitar and singing with a laser focus that is simultaneously serious and blissful.
Nelson shared the bill with Nikki Lane and the Tennessee Dirtbags, who’ve had quite a year on their own (seemingly endless) tour. Lane’s set came first and she played with just as much passion as she has all year since the February release of Highway Queen. Lane always seems right at home in Brooklyn (she used to live there herself), and it shows in her confidence on stage. She played songs off all her records from the tongue-in-cheek “Right Time” and “Man Up”, to the slow groove “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That”, and howlers like “Highway Queen”, “Jackpot” and “700,000 Rednecks”. By the time her band closed things out with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, the audience was primed and ready for the final set of the show.
Nelson bounded on stage with all the giddiness of a young boy, and that energy never waned through his lengthy set. With two percussionists, a killer guitarist and bassist, plus his own intricate finger-picking, Nelson and the Promise of the Real created a sound that filled every square inch of the room. But the star of the show was that rich voice that seems to come from some please deep inside him. Nelson hits each note like it’s his last when he sings, and each contains a potent blend of soul, twang and pure rock and roll. On the countrified “Fool Me Once” and “Four Letter Words”, and the handclapping sing-along like “High Times”, the crowd became one big party. But in the softer, more tender moments, when it was just Nelson and his guitar (“Just Outside of Austin” and “If I Started Over”), we were swept off our feet.
Standout numbers came when Nelson paid tribute to a hero, Tom Petty, more than once, with a stripped down version of “Breakdown” and later with a true-to-the-original “American Girl”. And the whole crowd was won over with Nelson’s most incredible songs of the night: “Forget About Georgia” and “Runnin’ Shine”, both beauties that knock the wind out of you. It all would have been more than enough if it had just ended there, but we were treated to both Nelson’s and Lane’s bands joining together on stage to bring us all home with The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek”, complete with at least FOUR guitar solos. Fresh off their recent show at Levon Helm’s studio, it was a fitting way to end the night.