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Neal Francis at The Independent in San Francisco, The Spirit of Live Music is Sustained

The sold-out Neal Francis show at The Independent was filled with driving bass and drums, extended jams, and blistering solos. The essence of 70s American bands is alive and well. At its core, great musicians playing great music that feels fresh and alive, that makes you want to dance. Alternating between a big sound and moments of quieter introspection.

Neal Francis, from Chicago, roused the entire room to dance and sway along with him. Neal’s keyboard soloing and rhythm playing propelled the music, whether he was sitting at the electric piano or standing and swaying at the organ. His spoken-sung vocal style complimented the music. His band took it to the next level – the guitarist was on the entire night. After one solo, Neal asked if it was powered by the pork chop that they ate before the show. The Bay Area food scene is happy to fuel this, anytime.

During the duet with opener Kendra Morris – one highlight of the show – a man to my left opined he was seeing a “generational talent.” A woman on my right said she was witnessing artists “commanding the stage.” These bands are playing great music on a nightly basis, and this show proves large enthusiastic crowds are eager for it.

Neal expressed love for San Francisco, “It’s one of the last places we played before The Thing happened,” referring to the Covid pandemic. This may have been the inspiration for one of their more popular songs, “Can’t Stop The Rain.” The core message being while the rain (the inevitable bad parts of life) always comes, we can enjoy the good moments as well. Moments like this band, and this show.

It’s uplifting, and realistic. Life is rarely sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but good things can happen, and it’s valuable to enjoy them when they do.

Musically, Neal Francis’ core sound has strong funk influenced big rock with loose New Orleans rhythms and keys. Some songs have more R&B and soul influence, and others have sprinkles of early disco. Cited influences range from Sly and The Family Stone, Funkadelic, The Kinks, Leon Russell, Dr John, The Who, and Fleetwood Mac. You can hear elements of each in the music.

The extended jams went other directions. One song had strong Pink Floyd and David Gilmore vibes from the guitar effects. Neal reinforced this with Floyd-ish keyboard sounds.

Collin O’Brien behind the drums brought the energy all night, keeping things driving during songs and drum breaks. He made great use of his few cymbals and many tom-toms, including some small concert toms, giving him a full 180 degrees of toms and the strong 70s sounds and vibes. Mike the bassist played driving, melodic bass lines. Together, they’re truly a great rhythm section.

The venue was full even for the opener, Kendra Morris, who is based in New York City.

She moved to the front of the stage, connecting with the crowd. Barefoot and present. Belting out song after song, channeling Janis Joplin in one of the best cities to do that. At other times, her voice had an operatic, vibrato quality.

Kendra’s band was great. The bassist and drummer were very tasteful, understated but driving. The guitarist, who produced the recordings, played strong solos. They all left lots of space, and were masters of controlling the volume.

She expressed bittersweet emotion about the final song being the last song of their tour. For another song, she was explicitly trying to convey a message – we’re all people cut from the same cloth. We might disagree about certain things – politics, religion, aesthetics, whatever – but we’re all people.

The crowd swayed to the message.

About the author

Bay Area based drummer - @super_cassette • @ken_newman • @saalt.bb • Problem • @boboskiwattenband • more

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