Chicago’s Neal Francis Making Piano Rock Cool Again in Plain Sight

Neal Francis
Wise Hall, Vancouver, BC
July 6, 2023


Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the 34-year old piano prodigy found himself touring Europe by the age of 18 with Muddy Waters’ son and backing up other prominent blues artists coast-to-coast. Francis began playing classical piano at the age of four before finding his way into Chicago blues clubs as a teen when he was able to connect with one of Chicago’s greats, Blues, boogie, jazz, and American roots pianist Erwin Helfer, who furthered Francis’ music education. Around the same time, Francis came into the graces of the late blues great and Muddy Waters’ piano player Pinetop Perkins. Francis’ father took him to see one of Pinetop’s famous showdowns at Rosa’s Lounge and the budding talent was hooked.

Neal Francis, the much-buzzed-about keyboardist-singer is a star on the rise. Critics are comparing him to legends like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.



Neal Francis, wearing a red tapestry dinner jacket, sat down at the Yamaha electric piano with a Hohner Clavinet sitting on top, and a Korg synthesizer to his left. His band, consisting of Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), played a scorching set comprised of songs from the 2021 release, the R&B-blues-boogie-woogie-psychedelic-jam-arena-rock ‘In Plain Sight’.

There’s a lot of firepower on stage. The band really shines when they follow the groove for some extended jams. It was like vintage Yes from the 70s. The beautiful sound from the Korg synthesizer, especially during “Prometheus” and “Sentimental Garbage” with these crazy long jams and the turning of knobs as Francis created some dreamy sounds that was perfection with Boersma’s solo guitar licks. The only thing only missing during “Sentimental Garbage” was a psychedelic light show.

The funky “Say Your Prayers” was excellent with more crazy guitar, almost Peter Frampton-like that took over near the end of the song.

The evening would end with the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man”.


Neal Francis



She’s A Winner
Alameda Apartments
This Time
Say Your Prayers
Take time
Say your prayers
Take time
Very Fine, pts. 1 & 2
Can’t Stop the Rain
Sentimental Garbage
I’m Waiting for the Man (Velvet Underground cover)


Seattle’s Smokey Brights, fronted by husband and wife duo Kim West (keys and vocals) and Ryan Devlin (guitar and vocals) with drummer Nick Krivchenia and bassist Luke Logan opened for Neal Francis. Half of the songs from their 45-minute plus set were from their newest album, ‘Levitator’, released on June 2, 2023.

The group released their first LP, ‘Taste For Blood’, in 2014 to regional acclaim and heavy airplay and support from iconic radio station KEXP. Catching the attention of upstart label Freakout Records, the band released their sophomore LP, ‘Hot Candy’, in 2016.




No Getting Out
Save Us Sarah
The Mountain
Sad Boy Song #39
Fancy Ketchup
Long Goodbye
I Love You But Damn
Different Windows


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