Chicago singer-songwriter Neal Francis captured our attention last spring as the sparkling and impressive glam-fueled rocker with a breakout set at the virtual NON-COMMvention.

At today’s Free at Noon concert, a warmup for his headlining Philly show at World Cafe Live tonight, Francis performed solo, transforming his retro-pop leanings in all sorts of unexpected directions. The Randy Newman influence on “Can’t Live Without Your Love” rang even more strongly in this setting; the cascading Billy Joel-esque runs on “Prometheus” swept us away.

“This next part works better with the band,” Francis said in the midst of the latter song. “Lots of screaming guitars. You don’t have to imagine it for yourself, just come back tonight.”

At the same time, Francis’ biggest singles, “Problems” and “Can’t Stop The Rain” rocked just as much in this sparse configuration, showing just how strong the bones of his songwriting can be.

He also proved himself to be quite the personable performer, cheekily bantering about Philadelphia history — “Give it up for democracy. I have many fond memories of touring this city’s wonderful historical monuments as a child.” — as well as his decision to take a plane to arrive at Free at Noon more quickly, while his bandmates drive six hours down 95 from last night’s gig in Boston.

Francis said his new album In Plain Sight, out now, was written and recorded in Chicago during the pandemic lockdown. “It was a very productive quarantine project for me to keep from going insane,” he said. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work on that.”

Listen back to Neal Francis solo Free at Noon set in full below, and see him with the full band tonight at World Cafe Live. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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Can’t Live Without Your Love
Changes, Pt. 1
Can’t Stop The Rain
Alameda Apartments
Say Your Prayers