You know those mornings you wake up a bit muzzy after staying out late because the night before was too much fun to quit? There were a bunch of us Friday morning after Philly based Low Cut Connie electrified the Mainroom. There’s this is the old adage that musicians must suffer for the sake of their art. Hey, dedicated music fans aren’t much different! What’s a bit of sleep deprivation compared to one of those magical nights? You know, the kind where somebody asks: “How was last night’s show?” And all you can do is just shake you head and wonder where to begin. It’s too early to decide if this was my favorite show of the year. But it’s safe to say that the whole evening was the most fun I’ve had at a show in 2018.
The evening kicked off with Australian born, Nashville based Bex Chilcott’s band Ruby Boots. I know I’m a bit odd in that I’m often suspect when a Nashville band comes to town. Country isn’t really my thing. Some friends are perplexed because at the same time, I love Americana. Some things seem to come off a bit formulaic. Maybe it’s the Twang quotient. In any case, this band was a very pleasant surprise.
Admittedly, there were a couple times the band began to veer in this direction. However, they really showed they were capable of rocking hard. Chilcott’s voice is really cool. Partly because Aussie and Tennessee produce an accent that’s unique. More because it calls to mind Lucinda Williams. Tired, ragged and plaintive, if not quite as road worn.
Give Nashville its due, however. Truly dynamite musicians are like leaves on a tree. And Ruby Boots was packed with them. They were tight and stoked to be on the First Avenue stage. They were also stoked to be on the road with Low Cut Connie, whose fans Bex called the best she’d ever seen. It’s pretty typical for openers to point people to their merch table and invite people to come say hello. But when she threw out that invite, she added: “Because right now I’m in the best f*ing mood EVER!”
So was the audience. Not only because of that RB set, but because the clock was ticking for the headliner we’d packed the venue to see.
It’s been a privilege to watch Low Cut Connie in the past year blow up before our eyes. The attention is well deserved. When somebody says that a band “really brings it”, think of these folks as the poster children. Their performances are wildly entertaining. Front man Adam Weiner grabs your attention by the throat and drags you onto the dance floor.
There aren’t too many ways that a band can break into the big time. There’s about as much room on top of the mountain as there is on an upright piano. No doubt, one of the best is to get a major city to saturate the airwaves with your music. Where thousands can simultaneously learn the words to the chorus. The Twin Cities has provided one of those launch pads for Low Cut Connie.
Primary credit goes to The Current for recognizing something special a couple years back and continuing to champion the band. At least four or five tunes from the first couple albums have garnered heavy rotation. Not surprising, staff from that media outlet was out in force last night. They weren’t alone. Program directors from the other hip rock and roll stations also dropped in as fans to check the buzz. You can bet even more LCC will be found up and down the radio dial in the very near future. And that’s a very good thing.
Thursday’s First Ave show had the feeling of a coming out party; kind of a twisted debutante ball (if one can ever imagine uttering Jersey boys and debutante in the same sentence). This was trip number three to the Twin Cities in the past 12 months. A Turf Club gig last November and Rock The Garden over the summer. But this show was the official coronation. This was immediately evident when the entire band, sans front man Weiner, took to the stage. Rather than immediately tending to business, each stood, smiled, waved and basked in an avalanche of adoration. Everything was reversed. Like beginning with a curtain call.
When Weiner appeared at the corner of the stage, clad in signature sequined silk jacket, the cheers came up a few more decibels. He gazed at the 1500 people before him, pumped his fist and exhorted the troops to improbably bring it up another notch. With a giant smile, he moved across the stage making sure that each and every one of us was in full throat and ready to hit the ground running. He parked at his sturdy piano front and center and kicked off the show with All Theses Kids Are Way Too High. First Avenue was off to the races and for the next 75 minutes the band tore along in a full sprint.
Piling through songs we knew like Beverly, Boozaphelia, Back in School and Dirty Water I was struck by a wave of revelations, both my own and from people chattering around me. An emerging local artist once explained to me how he didn’t view himself as an artist, instead he felt he was an entertainer. I’ve little doubt Weiner comes from that same school. Yet he comes to the stage drenched in artistic talent: as vocalist, dancer, piano player, songwriter and ringleader.
Another music industry insider was genuinely delighted and enthused: “There are a lot of bands out there that can really rock. But not very many who also can really roll. You know, drop down in to this groove that keeps driving forward? These guys really know how to roll!” That about says it.
As I watched the sweat fly, it occurred to me that Low Cut Connie could only have emerged from a small handful of large Northeastern cites. From the New York’s, South Jersey’s and Philadelphia’s. There’s this tradition of bigger than life, over the top, completely unadulterated rock and roll. From the Sha Na Na to Southside Johnny to Meatloaf and even the Boss himself. My notes mention the E Street Band in that opening number. Before the internal editor in my brain had a chance to reconsider said blasphemy and hyperbole, a radio host said to me: “They come at you just like the E Street Band!” So I’m sticking with the accolade.
But don’t get in your head that LCC is in any way derivative. They are utterly original. At the same time, you see flashes of influences. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons that border on the sacrilegious. The kind of influences that only a very talented few have any business flashing. In the preview for this show it was mentioned Weiner was part Freddy Mercury and part Jerry Lee Lewis. Last night, I also caught echoes of Elton John. No surprise, Sir Elton recently signed up as a hardcore fan and raved about them on his radio program. Opined that this was the band that was carrying forward the torch. Mighty high praise!
Time and again my older responsible self cringed as band members clambered onto the top of the piano and launched into space. Or jumped into the crowd. Or attacked the keys from under, on top of, or on one foot. Mark my words, there are serious bruises going on with this band. A broken leg or torn ACL is out there on the horizon somewhere. But it’s a risk they take and fans just eat it up.
I mentioned to a companion that nobody could do what they do without remaining in tremendous physical condition. Despite the appearance of a booze infused brawl, there is no doubt a strict regime on stage sobriety exists. Anything else would be downright dangerous! There’s nothing more exciting than watching a high energy rock band that looks like they’re about to blow right off the tracks. Yet somehow they make it around that Dead Man’s Curve in one piece with the whistle shrieking.
One of my favorite numbers of the night was Shake It Little Tina which featured back up singer Saundra Williams. She is the newest member of the band, having come on board a year ago. According to folks who have seen the band over the past year, as well as Williams herself, there has been a process of integrating her into a more central role. She’s an R&B diva in her own right. When Weiner needs to catch his breath, she roars to the front and keeps the sound tsunami coming. Think of all those monster East Coast bands and those “20 Feet From Stardom” singers. She is all that. And a little bit of Bettye LaVette and Sister Rosetta Tharpe thrown in for good measure.
The main set was over in what seemed about 15 minutes. The band returned for a delightful 3 song encore which began with a new tune that was the closest thing to a ballad they attempted. The homestretch was a combination of two very tasty, unexpected covers honoring icons who have left us. The crowd jumped when the recognized the early notes of Tom Petty’s You’re a Free Girl Now.
How many bands have walked onto that Mainroom stage and played Purple Rain? Been there, done that. We get it and we love it. But isn’t it just a bit self indulgent? Kind of like “All my life I dreamed of stepping on that stage and doing the song that made both Prince and First Avenue famous!” Like a rock n roll #MeToo movement.
You want a challenge? Bring on the funk and deliver his Purple Majesty’s Controversy instead. Stand atop that piano stool, back to the audience and bring the sexy. Grinding, twitching, flowing, dropping the suspenders and ripping off the sleeveless undershirt. After the show, I was chatting with a female audience member and she immediately offered that this was her favorite moment of the entire night. I let her know that I had a hard time looking. But I was jealous as hell.
I began this review by talking about how hard it was to get going the next morning. That show was over by about 10:20 pm. It was by no means late. But the fun was just starting. Word circulated that there was a combination after party/listening party to take place next door at The Depot. The Current was broadcasting a radio program which hearkened back to the halcyon days of Philly Top 40 AM. Hosted by Weiner, he not only pattered, he spun the discs and added live piano to the records.
After showers and a change of clothes, the band wandered in. They talked with fans, signed autographs and took photos. This level of support is still relatively new for Low Cut Connie and they are still basking in the attention. But they know they’ve established something special here. They wanted to share the exuberance with all of us. It’s one thing to stand on stage and sincerely thank an audience. It’s another thing entirely when they are willing to take a personal minute with you to share their experience. To make sure you really did have a night to remember. It’s special when you know the band loves you back. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s going above and beyond. But it’s also really smart and a fantastic way to build a base.
The Twin Cities is a special music city. So often, we’re the first on a bandwagon. We know and support bands that deserve it. Let’s add Low Cut Connie to that list. They’ll be back again before too long. But like Sheriff Brady said to Quint in the movie Jaws: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Next time, they’ll need a bigger venue.