As we all know, tours and venues are opening across the country and with this, shows are being scheduled wherever there is an open night and music lovers everywhere are digging every minute of it. Recently Colorado has been blessed with a number of surprisingly great week mid-week shows, including Bob Weir last week, and this week the trend continues. On Wednesday, The Fox Theatre in Boulder hosted its first show since shutting down in March of 2020 and with such a special opportunity at hand, it was no wonder that to blow its doors open once again, the raw power and talent of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real were the band of choice. Not only was this the return of the Boulder concert staple after over a year, but for the band, this was the first of four-album release tour stops, including Chicago, Nashville, and Austin, to support their latest creation A Few Stars Apart.
The Fox Theatre, originally named the Rialto Theater, was built in 1926 and has served Boulder with a multitude of functions over the decades, including vaudeville theater, dance company, eatery, and movie house. In 1992 the venue morphed again and received a makeover with one thing in mind: quality for the live music enthusiast. From a state-of-the-art sound system to a ridiculous array of lights, this venue touts the highest caliber of aural and visual amenities for all who would pass through its doors in search of the note. It is no wonder that many groups from multiple genres have performed on its tiny stage with as big a grin as the mere 625 that the inner sanctum holds. In 2013, Rolling Stone named The Fox as the 4th best club in America and anyone who has attended a show there knows why.
Arriving to The Fox Theatre about 90 minutes before doors, it was very apparent that fans of Lukas Nelson and the band are a dedicated sort. Stretched out in front of the venue were approximately 50 die-hards who had been posted in their camping chairs for hours, smiling ear to ear knowing that due to the size of the venue they were going to be guaranteed a spot within feet of the band and the high energy they bring to the stage with every performance.
With the doors open, the floor was packed within 30 minutes, and it was easy to see that the sold-out status of the website was in fact a reality. With a start time of 8 pm, the band delayed until 8:15 just to ensure that no one would be left out for what would be a night of solid, southern infused, Texas swing that would leave everyone energized in the end.
The band began with a dynamite-packed rendition of “Start to Go” that got everyone moving from the first notes and it was clear that the band and sound were dialed in from the get-go. Next up was “Perennial Bloom”, the first of 7 songs from the new album that would be played throughout the night. This song is ballad meets rocker and was well received by the room. Keeping the energy high, Nelson brought out another apparent fan favorite in “4 Letter Word”. This number had the whole of the crowd singing right along, excitement accentuated with the house lights illuminating the crowd as the band and fans exchanged energy throughout the entirety of the tune. Taking the opportunity to let the room catch their breath, “Throwing Away Your Love”, another new tune, slowed things a bit, but kept everyone engaged. “Fool Me Once” is great honky-tonk number and was appropriately accentuated with the ragtime tickling of the upright piano.
Continuing to reveal more new material, the group performed three new tunes in a row. “More Than We Can Handle” showcased how much Lukas has not fallen far from the Willie family tree. Donning an acoustic guitar, the chord structure and the lyrical croon showed that when Willie was dolling out songwriting lessons over the years, Lukas had his ears open wide. This piece was gentle, folky, and again showed the versatility of Nelson and the band. “Leave ‘Em Behind” continued with the folk feel of its predecessor. Containing a similar riff to Neil Young’s “Old Man” at the head, the tune eventually gave way to a great bridge section and Nelson offered a short but sweet solo, resulting in a round of applause from the audience. Transitioning quickly to the piano, Nelson finished out the new material trifecta with the title track of the new album, another soft piece with depth and pause, sprinkled throughout with the talents of the pedal slide and the accents of percussive accompaniment.
Continuing with three more original tunes and fan favorites, the band gave up great renditions of “Forget About Georgia”, “Just Outside of Austin”, and “Carolina”, before moving into covers of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Pali Gap”, both pulled off to exception that would make their original authors proud at the undertakings.
Returning to their latest creation, “Wildest dream” has a pop feel that speaks to that feeling of summer love during youth on sun-kissed days and starry nights, innocent, fun and carefree. The soul train hit the station in “Find Yourself” and contained a sing off between women and men and showcased the soulfulness of Nelson and his vocal range not only being able to go falsetto, but also being to sustain many of those high notes without showing any signs of fatigue. This tune also demonstrated that the band is just as incredible at playing quietly as they are at full volume and this proficiency is only exceeded by their ability to oscillate between these two dynamics in a single musical setting.
To close out the set, “Something Real” took the room on a jaunt deep into hard blues country that got the whole of the theater to getting down. Equipped with a driving bass line and thundering drums that packed a punch, the levels this tune had not only the audience going nuts, but the band members taking turns jumping off of the drum riser in wild displays of excitement.
For the first encore, “Set Me Down on a Cloud” and “The Awakening” were the songs of choice and with great renditions of both, with plenty of jam in the middle, it was clear that if there had not been a curfew in place, this band could have gone into the wee hours as they finished as strong as they had started.
The icing on the cake was a single song second encore, a piece written during the COVID shutdown and was presented with Nelson alone bathed in white light at the piano bench playing to a hushed crowd hanging on every word. “Smile” would be the final number of this memorable night and appropriately this is also the final track on the new album.
By the final notes of the single set show, the band clocked in at a little less than 2 hours and delivered one hell of a 20-song set that displayed the blues, soul, honky-tonk, southern rock, and the psychedelic in an effortless fashion that made it easy to see why many of those in attendance had come back to these performers time and time again for their original performances. As this was an album release party, it was great to hear at least 2/3rds of the new album in the live setting and certainly made this listener want to hear the rest. What this band brings to the stage is an eclectic catalog of well-rehearsed songs that are delivered with sincerity and a level of energy that transformed The Fox from a Rocky Mountain theater to a Texas Roadhouse, full of revelry, grit, emotion, and a shared experience that reflected that Lukas and Promise of the Real have a long, successful road ahead of them. Promise of the Real is comprised of Anthony LoGerfo on drums, Corey McCormick on Bass, Logan Metz on piano, pedal steel, guitar, and banjo, and Tato Melgar on percussion, and each member of this band is a talent of the highest regard. Throughout the night, there was no misstep and the group functioned as a well-Texas-oiled machine, both in improvisation and structure, and by the appearance of the chemistry on stage, the term family was communicated as genuine rather than cliché. As a novice to the Lukas Nelson world, this is certainly an experience that is well worth taking the ride again and again and again.
Start To Go, Perennial Bloom*, 4 Letter Word, Throwing Away Your Love*, Fool Me Once, More Than We Can Handle*, Leave ‘Em Behind*, A Few Starts Apart*, Forget about Georgia, Just Outside of Austin, Carolina, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (Simon), Pali Gap (Hendrix), Wildest Dream*, Find Yourself, Something Real
1st Encore: Set Me Down On A Cloud, The Awakening,
2nd Encore: Smile*
* Tracks from the newest album A Few Stars Apart