Neal Francis | photo by Ellen C. Miller
Neal Francis’ Marina stage set was the classic rock radio jam session of your dreams
The Chicago singer-songwriter’s set embraced the styles and sounds of the seventies.
From far away, he was the spitting image of Todd Rundgren. In fact, Neal Francis may as well have gone to his barber, held up a photo of the famously eccentric record producer, and said “this” in advance of his set on the XPNFest Marina stage.
Hailing from Chicago, the XPN Artist to Watch from November of 2021 takes practically every corner of classic rock radio — Deep Purple and Boz Scaggs, The Who and Funkadelic — and boils them down into a concentrated intravenous drip. His bandmates were like a roundup of the best session musicians from a swanky Hollywood strip studio in the 1970s.
As for Francis, he preened in tinted shades and a leopard-print blouse from behind a wall of keyboards like a shagadelic rockstar from days of yore. All of them got played, sometimes two at the same time, embracing the deliberately retro uncoolness of sounds like a funky clav lead (of which there were many).
During the intro to “Very Fine,” there was a second when the music stopped, and all of the players grunted together into their microphones. It brought a smile to every single face backstage, perfectly encapsulating Francis’ appeal: a complete lack of self-consciousness and self-seriousness. Of course, he then launched right into an organ solo that could’ve been pulled straight from an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer record.
Fans got a treat when Francis and co. realized they had more time then they’d planned for. After the extremely well-received “Can’t Stop The Rain” and “Lowdon”-esque “BNYLV,” the band launched into an extended jam session to close out the show.
Neal Francis’ forthcoming EP, Sentimental Garbage, releases November 18th. He told the crowd to “pick it up at a record store or something,” which was a very ‘70s way of encouraging them to support his music. Listen to his performance and check out a photo gallery below.
- Say Your Prayers
- She's A Winner
- How Have I Lived
- Very Fine
- Can't Stop The Rain