Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real brought their blues-country fusion act to Madison when they played a ripping show at The Sylvee this Tuesday. The band’s synergy and individual talent shone through to create a spectacle you had to see to believe.
The venue was mostly full as the band took the stage, jumping directly into their music without an opening act. The crowd was full of cowboy hats and band merchandise, with a clearly engaged audience ready to hear one of their favorite performers. The venue was full of murmurs of Nelson’s dad, the great Willie Nelson and the shows the two of them performed with The Avett Brothers at Breese Stevens Field in early August. Lukas also gained acclaim from his work as co-writer and co-producer for the 2018 hit movie “A Star is Born.”
The show started with a bang as Nelson’s Fender Telecaster sang out the opening riff to their song “Start to Go.” In its style-blending format, the song was a great teaser for the rest of the show — the audience immediately knew they were going to get pounding drum beats, ripping guitar solos as well as thoughtful lyrics and tasteful ballads.
Each of Nelson’s band members got their moments in the limelight — keyboardist/guitarist Logan Metz played a charming introduction to “More Than We Can Handle” after Nelson pointed out that Metz was from Wauwatosa. The Wisconsinite repeatedly added depth and taste to Nelson’s songs by way of organ, lap steel, banjo and piano.
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One of the show’s most uplifting moments came with “Leave ‘em Behind,” which Nelson prefaced by describing his process for writing it. A friend of his had been in an abusive relationship and this song expressed his desire for the friend to get out of it. Starting quietly on the acoustic guitar, it eventually built to an incredible solo on the electric to round out the anthemic song.
The show, despite its lack of an opener, gave the audience a full musical experience from start to finish, once even throwing in a nod to The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” during “Four Letter Word” to ensure everyone heard something they could enjoy. The encore consisted of six full songs, spearheaded by bassist Corey McCormick performing a fresh and heavy take on Van Halen’s Eruption, unaccompanied by the rest of the
band. Switching the mood entirely, Nelson then serenaded the audience alone at the piano, performing “Smile,” an emotional and moving ballad off of the band’s most recent album, “A Few Stars Apart.”
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Arguably the best performance of the night came during the encore when the band launched into “Entirely Different Stars.” The song begins with Nelson’s pensive lyrics about our planet’s declining health and the idealized reality of moving to a “nice little farm, a thousand light years south of Mars.” It then transitions to an interlude of aural chaos as the band created a dissonant and unsettling soundscape, most likely for us to imagine a world wrecked by climate change. The song finally finishes on an incredible release of energy, with an idyllic, almost ethereal guitar solo shining through the disarray of the preceding few minutes.
Drummer Anthony LoGerfo got his moment to shine during the encore when his drum solo at the end of “The Awakening” showed the crowd his innate talent. Leading into the concert’s closer “Something Real,” the solo was exactly what was needed to keep the energy up before ending the show on a high.
The band was clearly grateful to be playing live once again, repeatedly expressing their thanks to the crowd. Their preparedness to put on a great show was never in doubt, with their professionalism shining through to the end. The four-piece ended the night by giving away their guitar/bass picks and drumsticks to the audience, making sure both got to one young fan in the front row.