It was evident from the moment I took my place in the eager Roots N Blues crowd that Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (also known as POTR) are more than your average country band. At least that’s what I gathered from the non-stop singing of the POTR super fans I was sandwiched between.
Being the son of the legendary Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson has been subjected to the mechanics of the rockstar lifestyle from a young age. By the age of thirteen, he was singing and playing guitar alongside his father, quickly learning how to become frontman to his own band. Alongside their own independent work, the ensemble has also been Neil Young’s regular backing band since 2015.
Amid of series of loud gasps and shrieks, Lukas Nelson & POTR strutted out on the Missouri Lottery stage on Sept. 28. Clad in black denim and a white cowboy hat, Nelson looked stylish yet overdressed amongst his t-shirt and flannel wearing band. Although it was obvious that Nelson was the star here, he humbly opened up his show by thanking his crew and driver, a sweet touch that was responded with more hollering and cries of adoration from the mega fans.
Their first song, “Entirely Different Stars,” was preceded with an unexpected “Rick and Morty” backstory. The concept of the song emerged after a “Rick and Morty” episode viewing, clearly demonstrated from the song’s intergalactic centered lyrics like “Wanna take a ride / The good kind of ride / The wanna get lost in space kind of ride.” The unreleased song began with a slow, dream-like beat fitting for its space travel theme, but the instruments’ sound steadily increased as it went on.
“Entirely Different Stars” was followed with “Die Alone,” a song from their self-titled debut album. This song showed off Nelson’s vocal range, reaching high yet still raspy notes that signify a true country rocker. Nelson and his fellow guitarist Corey McCormick had a few coordinated moves during the performance, which might have been impressive if executed well. Some of their actions looked like they were doing squats while holding guitars, and the kick jumps would have been more intriguing if they had better timing.
I was familiar with the next song, “Fool Me Once,” so I was able to easily sing along with the crowd. I found myself swaying along with those around me and was asked by two sisters to record a heartwarming video of them singing their favorite song together. It was at this point that I noticed how much the crowd had increased. A quick peek behind me showed the crowd size had doubled since the band took the stage, with people now huddled in on all sides of the fenced area.
Nelson could not have sounded more like his father in “Just Outside of Austin,” who he actually performs with in the song’s music video. A quick change to an acoustic guitar and a more sensual vibe was necessary for this song. Compared to the other songs they played, this one definitely held the most country roots. Nelson complimented Stephens Lake Park before he played, detailing that the trees and wildlife reminded him of his time in Austin, Texas.
Up next was one of the crowd’s favorites, “Turn Off the News (Build A Garden),” the title track of their most recent album. Fist pumps were seen throughout the sky as the crowd hollered “turn off the news,” a funny sight after witnessing the person in front of me rant about politics before the concert. I guess it’s easy to forget about the mundane life when you’re at a concert.
Easily the best part of the set was when the band played “Find Yourself,” their most popular song with over 3 million Spotify streams. This song features backing vocals from the iconic Lady Gaga, with whom Nelson had the honor of collaborating with for the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack. Bradley Cooper, director and the leading actor of “A Star is Born,” also consulted Lukas Nelson for the film, and the subtle raspy similarities between Cooper’s Jackson Maine and Nelson’s singing is uncanny.
Before playing, Nelson jokingly reminded everyone of how unfortunate it was that Lady Gaga was not there to play with them. A bummer, but the band proved they could give a fantastic performance even without Gaga’s help.
Nelson divided the audience for the chorus of the song, asking for just the girls to sing “Oh, and I hope you find yourself / Before I find somebody else to be my love,” and the guys to follow suit. POTR’s stage presence was acceptable at best before this, but the band’s entire energy shifted after this song. Nelson played the guitar with more intensity for “Find Yourself,” and the band appeared more animated when the song ended.
Complete with now synchronized moves and a wicked guitar solo performed only with his teeth, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real left the crowd in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion with their song “Something Real.” Not a single person in sight was standing still — everyone was either jumping up and down or dancing with their friends. By the end of the night, I was dancing with complete strangers and actually enjoying a country rock concert, something a country cynic like myself never could have seen coming.
Edited by Janae McKenzie | firstname.lastname@example.org