On the day First Avenue announced Low Cut Connie’s return to First Avenue, I jumped. I caught last November’s breathtaking show and spent most of the last year telling my friends LCC was the hottest live band going. (Apologies, my friends at Drive By Truckers. But you’ve been taking it pretty easy lately.) This was one of those shows where I grabbed as many tickets as allowed. Then I forced them on friends and family.
Somebody once wrote: If aliens landed on earth and you wanted to introduce them to Rock n Roll, this would be a good place to start!
Taking it easy is not the modus operandi of this Philly based powerhouse, led by uber front man Adam Wiener. I don’t know if anybody has toured more relentlessly over the past couple years than this band. When Wiener talked about a new album coming out in 2020 titled Private Lives, I found myself wondering when on earth they’d found the time to do it! In any case, something to which we can all look forward.
If there is a hallmark of LCC, it’s finding a lot of joy in taking things over the top. Old school abandon. When I initially saw they’d be playing with New Orlean’s Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, it was perplexing. What did a trans, hip hop, booty whomping act have to do with LCC’s barrel rolling piano rock and roll? By the time the show concluded, it became apparent. Everything.
Stylistically, they couldn’t be more different. Freedia backed by a DJ and flanked by his shakers. Low Cut Connie with their superb musicianship and wall of sound. The common ground was excess and freedom. The bottom line for both bands is that they’re coming for you with a wealth of artistic integrity. These were the odd kids growing up. Nowadays they’re doing what they do and they have each others’ backs. They are there to cause a lot of chaos; make you bounce. They come at it differently. But few are better at making it happen.
Big Freedia played a full hour set. This was more co-bill than warm up. Clad in black and white satin check, they rapped away as a parade of dancers joined them on stage. The female dancers, in particular, were there to provide a bit of a shock. And, at least in our clean cut, conservative, Minnesota nice environment, it certainly worked. If you want to be a dancer for Freedia, you’ve got to sport some moves that would be considered risque by good old Mid-westeners. Half of the moves were delivered with backs to the audience making things quake like jello cause jam just don’t shake like that.
I was way outside my nice comfortable 70s classic rock upbringing. Sure, I’d seen this stuff scrolling through TV channels on any number of nights. But I hadn’t seen anything like it live. The audience was digging it, however, and I chalked it up to my own naivete. Maybe it was latent paranoia of my Mom walking into my room, despite the fact I moved out 45 years ago. As the show wrapped, I ran into my friend Steve from the band Saint Small. He gave me a solemn look and informed me: “Boy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before. I’m going to be seeing that for a long time.”
This is not to say the size of the crowd was anything other than perfect. I’ll take that venue just under capacity every time. That little bit of extra room to dance and bounce is worth it. Last night I wasn’t alone in that attitude. Anybody with any space toward the back was on the move. Working up a sweat which is exactly what Adam Wiener and band wanted.
A quick revelation went off like a light bulb midway through the set. Of the 6 friends in my group, three are working musicians in local rock bands, Saint Small and The Shackletons. Us normal folks were dancing up a storm. The three musicians stood still, heads moving slightly to the music. Eyes laser focused on the stage. Strange that. Because each of those guys is known to bounce all over a stage when they strap on a guitar! Why weren’t they dancing? Suddenly, I understood. These cats were working! When a powerhouse show band like Low Cut Connie hits the stage, musicians are trying to figure it out. I asked Saint Small Steve what he was doing and he proclaimed: “I’m observing!” When I replied: “You mean you’re figuring out how to steal shit?” he laughed and said: “Believe it!”
There are a couple of things people need to understand about this band. They work HARD. When Wiener walks on stage, his first task is not to sit down and play. It’s to stalk the stage from side to side exhorting the crowd to scream, to make some noise. LCC music is designed to steamroll the din. By the time he parks at his battered upright piano and kicks off All These Kids Are Way Too High the place is already at a fever pitch.
Forget about pace. Forget about breaks. LCC hits the accelerator and never lifts. By the third song Dirty Water, the crowd was in full throat singing with the band. By the fifth song, Shake It Little Tina, they’d invited a couple dozen fans on stage to dance like nobody was watching. Green light for the floor to follow the lead and erupt. I turned to my friend and we shook our heads. They’d just begun. And the energy level in the building was already cresting like a rogue wave. He’d not seen the band before and wondered how on earth they could build on it. I promised that they were just getting warmed up.
Shake It Little Tina, penned for Ms Turner, was incendiary. The band’s take on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs was stunning. Radio hits like Beverly and Boozaphelia tore the place to shreds. That title track Private Lives from the forthcoming album had people locked and attentive. The opener from the encore, also from the new album, You Can Stay As Long As You Like was a fresh and radical departure. It began with Wiener on piano and a single violin. Quiet, heartfelt. Until the band returned and it exploded like everything else.
Gazing around the floor I was struck by the joy lighting so many different kinds of faces. I think all of us were a bit stunned by how quickly things had flown by. I looked at my watch and questioned if I’d remembered to set it back when Daylight Savings expired. My mind was on fire. Physically I was exhausted. That’s my favorite high in the world. And it occurred to me that one of the things I enjoyed most was that one of our entourage, young Geoff who recently migrated from Portland, was in The Mainroom for the first time. What an introduction! First Avenue claims another soul.
When Low Cut Connie wheels through a set, it’s remarkable how many flashes and influences stream through your consciousness. Some are fairly obvious. If you don’t hear and feel those other bands that grew up in Jersey’s Stone Pony, you’ve been living under a rock. The band drips with Springsteen and his E Streeters or Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The piano showmanship is pure Elton John. The sexuality is all Freddie Mercury. Throw in bits of Jerry Lee Lewis and Mott The Hoople. It’s one heady brew.
The show concluded with a rollicking version of Prince’s Controversy, Big Freedia back on stage to pitch in. By this point the place was up for grabs. The band just continued to stoke the fire. I watched them all; male, female, straight, gay, trans, black and white. Immersed in creation. Physically and musically rebounding off each other. Radiating love. In that moment, just before lead guitar Will Donnelly launched himself from the top of the piano, in a stunt that would wow Nils Lofgren, Prince’s lyrics matched the picture.
People call me rude, I wish we all were nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules
Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? Let me tell ya…
Some people wanna die so they can be free
Life is just a game, we’re all just the same…
Don’t ya wanna play?
Amen to that, brother and sisters. Amen to that.