Neal Francis Leaves ‘Em Gasping for More

Neal Francis left Chicago, and he headed to the ATX. Three days, 6 concerts, and 2 live radio shows later, Francis moved on. The modern day piano man left behind a legion of new fans begging him to come back soon.

During his whirlwind SXSW 2022 stay, Francis appeared at venues as large as Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion and as intimate the brand new coffee bar at the Carpenter Hotel. He shared bills with the likes of Nelson, Jason Isbell, Heartless Bastards, and The Bright Light Social Hour. His high energy shows left audiences hungry for more.

“I think he’s really going to blow up,” predicted one fan, who told me he’d been to half of Francis’ Austin appearances.

This writer was fortunate enough to catch Francis and his band under a big tent at Luck Reunion on Thursday and squeezed into the patio stage at Parlor & Yard on Saturday. Both times, the quartet delivered incredibly tight arrangements with enough jamming to show off their virtuosity. They play a little bit of soul, a little bit of synth, a little bit of funk, and a lot of rock and roll. It’s all packaged around Francis’ soft but intense tenor sharing lyrics that explore the 30-year-old’s battles with alcohol, drug addiction, and their accompanying sorrows.

Witness this line from the hard charging “Can’t Stop the Rain,” off of his new album, In Plain Sight. (The album cut includes a fine guitar solo from Derek Trucks.)

When you look in the mirror,
Do you see someone you know?
Or are you just a stranger,
Buried in the snow?

Francis’ style touches on, but certainly doesn’t imitate, many keyboard legends. Going from song to song, his music elicited a “that sounds kind of like” response in my head: one was kind of like Elton John, another was kind of like Sly Stone, kind of like Leon Russell, kind of like Phish’s Page McConnell. The press clippings about his 2019 debut album, Changes, include a BBC radio host calling Francis “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” One of the photos I took even made me think he looked kind of like a young Warren Zevon, whose demons he shares.

After the Parlor & Yard show, I asked Francis who his favorite piano player is. Given his variegated musical influences, his response really came as no surprise. He glanced upward for a moment then told me, in all sincerity, “I, I don’t really think I can answer that.”

Parlor & Yard
Austin, TX – 02.19.22

Canon EOS 80D
f8, 1/80
ISO 1250
116 mm

Parlor & Yard
Austin, TX – 02.19.22

Canon EOS 80D
f7.1, 1/125
ISO 1250
171 mm


Author: STL.images

Most concert photographers have to travel to reach their subjects. Not me! Living in Austin, Texas - the "Live Music Capital of the World" - the best musicians come to me! Austin is home to intimate clubs, awesome medium-sized venues, and big concert halls. I'm so lucky. Great music, great musicians, great photo opportunities.

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