July 15, 2014 by Neil Ferguson
Songwriting and guitar playing were front row center at the Scoot Inn in Austin on Saturday night with a double bill shared by Band of Heathens and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. The show took on added significance given that both acts have roots in the “Live Music Capital of the World”; Band of Heathens got their start in Austin and made a name for themselves gigging at local clubs, and Lukas just happens to be the son of a certain Red-Headed Stranger with the last name Nelson, which basically makes him royalty in these parts. The two bands were a fitting match given their penchant for writing quality lyrics balanced with a level of instrumental prowess that makes for top notch live performances.
Band of Heathens got the fire started with a set of charming country rock. Much like The Band – who are clearly a major influence on these guys – the members of the Heathens each possess a strong singing voice and lyrical ability. They also tap into a range of genres relating to various types of Southern music, which they put on display with opening tune “Should Have Known Better,” a song reminiscent of the Black Crowes with a gospel-tinged clap along beat. On “Miss My Life” singer Ed Jurdi wailed out vocals like the estranged son of Levon Helm and Chris Robinson while engaging in dueling slide guitar play with Gordy Quist, all on top of a boogie woogie piano.
Seizing on the momentum of those songs and catchy rocker “Shake the Foundation,” the band turned towards their latest album, Sunday Morning Record, with the somber but uplifting “Caroline Williams” and a “Shotgun” that brought to mind Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin.’” “LA County Blues” saw the Heathens letting loose and tapping into more free form jamming, and keeping the spiritual mood high with the hippie gospel of “Sunday Morning.” The audience went wild for the band’s flawless rendition of the Beatles classic “Maybe I’m Amazed,” only to explode when they broke into an all out psychedelic dance jam. Between their heartfelt lyrics, rich harmonies and grandiose instrumentation, the Band of Heathens set the stage just right for Lukas Nelson and showed Austin once again why they are one of the finest bands this town has produced in recent years.
At the young age of 25, Lukas Nelson comes across as a confident bandleader with plenty of bravado but none of the ego you’d expect from the son of one of country music’s greatest heroes. When he hit the stage at the Scoot Inn with a beaming grin, Nelson and his band appeared genuinely happy and surprised to be playing for the large crowd. Those who hadn’t seen Nelson yet and came to the show expecting a younger duplicate of Willie quickly realized that you won’t find that, but rather an eager musician searching for his own voice.
Throughout their set the band seemed to take pride in being adventurous, switching their sound from funk to soul to reggae and pure rock ‘n’ roll on a song by song basis. Slicing through it all was the scorching guitar work of Nelson who, while no doubt rooted in the psychedelic blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, took on the role of musical chameleon by complimenting the mood of each song without overdoing it. That being said, it was hard not to marvel at Nelson’s uncanny ability to jump so high and shred the guitar with his teeth. The band even slayed an unexpected cover of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes.” Nelson and his band closed the night with a bang when they invited the Band of Heathens onstage for a group hoot of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil,” sending the audience into the night with the feeling that they are both acts capable of taking their music to the biggest stages.
Photos by Suzanne Cordeiro.