Adam Weiner knew he was going to have a busy spring. He just didn’t expect it would be busy in quite this way.
The months’-long setup for Private Lives, the album by his Philadelphia band Low Cut Connie that’s due in October, began in January with the release of a lament song for Atlantic City called “Look What They Did.”
In March, there was meant to be a Low Cut Connie trip to the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, followed by a Tiny Desk Concert on NPR Music. For April, a main stage slot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was lined up.
And this summer Weiner had a gig for the ages: performing with the Philly Pops at the Mann Center in a tribute to Elton John, who in 2018 told a Wells Fargo Center audience: “There’s a band that I love at the moment so much called Low Cut Connie.”
Then came COVID-19, and like every other hard-touring band, Low Cut Connie saw its schedule instantly wiped out. Sixty shows were nixed, including a European tour now pushed back until 2021, “or who knows when,” Weiner said, talking from his home in South Philly this week.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronavirus putting the kibosh on Weiner’s year. He’s become a live-streaming star.
And between performing online shows from quarantine and promoting Private Lives, he said, “I swear to God, I’m busier than I’ve ever been.”
On March 12, Weiner played the first of what have turned out to be twice-a-week, no-holds-barred piano pounding performances from the privacy of self-isolation. They’ve won him widespread praise from media outlets like Rolling Stone and fans around the world who express their thanks from their own quarantines.
The hour-long shows take place every Thursday and Saturday at 6 p.m. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch, with tip jars for the band and for a Philabundance COVID-19 relief fund.
First billed as Live From South Philly, the shows have been now rebranded as Tough Cookies.
“I started calling the people watching ‘tough cookies,’” said Weiner, 40. “And I thought, I’m just going to name the show after the people who are watching it.”
The shows mix LCC originals with covers of Prince or Bob Dylan or Madonna or Warren Zevon. They’re a we’re-all-in-this-together inspirational pep talk and a stream-of-consciousness high-wire act.
By the end, the shameless showman has usually stripped to his undies — and then thrown on a red bathrobe for modesty’s sake. “Touch my body, touch my soul,” Weiner sings, sanctifying his true believers in “Revolution Rock n Roll.”
In a powerful performance last weekend, Weiner did an extended tribute to Little Richard, who died earlier that day.
He whooped and hollered and hammered the keys to “Long Tall Sally,” “The Girl Can’t Help It,” and “Tutti Frutti” and read from an essay he wrote for the music website The Talkhouse in 2019 called “Pour on The Steam: Little Richard at 19.” The performance racked up 40,000 views on Facebook Live.
Before the pandemic, Weiner had never done a live stream. “It didn’t seem like a very artful way to put a performance across.” But when the blackout went into effect, fans urged Weiner to make his presence felt.
On the first night, as he and guitarist Will Donnelly performed, “I’m looking at the back of a cell phone,” held by his wife, Adriana. “I can’t see if people are logged on, I can’t see the comments. I’m in a silent room. There’s no applause, there’s no reaction.
“I started off dressed in boots, jeans, jacket, the whole bit. We had no plan, no set list. And by the end, I’m in my underwear, sweaty on the ground. And it’s literally like: Did anyone tune in? Was anyone watching? And if so, did they like it?”
“I started getting these pictures and videos from people. Parents with their kids. People sick in their beds, watching it on their phones. Nurses rocking out in the hospital.”
Among the nurses was Monika Schoenberg, who works in a COVID unit at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, N.J. While treating patients, she and her coworkers stream Tough Cookies twice a week.
On Wednesday afternoon, Weiner and Donnelly performed an outdoor, socially distanced show at the Ocean County hospital. Along with two Little Richard tunes, there were covers of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You,” and, by request, the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.”
“It was really nice,” Weiner says. “There were a few tears.”
The reaction to Tough Cookies has convinced Weiner that he’s on to something. He’s also doing private online concerts for clients like Gibson Guitars and even the U.S. Navy, who asked him to not be sexually suggestive. (Good luck with that.)
In response to Tough Cookies, “I’m getting all these messages from Croatia and Japan and Australia and I’m like ‘Holy s-, we’re reaching people!’ And that’s when a lightbulb went off in my head. This is not a stop-gap measure. This is the future.”
Weiner, who studied experimental theater at New York University, loves the direct communication that streaming technology allows.
“I am coming at you,” he says. “I’m hosting a TV show, and every single show is different. It’s a comedy show. It’s church, it’s rock-and-roll, it’s a strip club, it’s a clubhouse. It’s all the things. It’s bringing me back to my performance art background.”
In Steve Martin’s memoir Born Standing Up, the comic talks about his experience doing magic, playing banjo, doing prop comedy.
“And then Johnny Carson said to him: ‘Use everything you know,’” Weiner says. “That’s what I’m doing now. Music is the draw, but it’s not the only thing. The heightened live experience of it is really the thing.”
Weiner is as eager for in-the-flesh live music to return, and concerned about the now-dark indie venues that have long supported Low Cut Connie.
“There’s nothing I like more than getting up on stage and blowing people’s minds,” he says. “But this is showing me that there’s this whole other landscape of performance that’s beyond the club environment.“
When live music comes back, he wants to find creative ways to mix traditional touring with online performance.
“This a different medium. I want to keep doing it and try to grow it. I think that what I’m doing is not temporary. I’m having such a good time and reaching so many people who will never get to see me live, and I’m reaching them in a deeper way than I ever have.”