Most music acts that put on live streaming performances during the concert shutdown used technology as a temporary placeholder , a highly-compromised means of maintaining a connection with fans until real live interaction became possible again.
For Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie, it was much more than that. The piano-pounding showman, with his trusty compadre Will Donnelly on guitar, threw himself into twice-a-week Tough Cookies virtual blowouts from his house in South Philly.
The inspirational, sweat-soaked performance-art variety show scoffed at the notion that a mere computer screen could divide the charismatic rock and soul man from the people that needed him like never before. The New Yorker named him Pandemic Person of the Year, and the global Tough Cookies tribe grew by leaps and bounds.
On Thursday at the Fillmore, the time to again gather in person in Low Cut Connie’s hometown finally arrived. “We were supposed to do this show last year,” said Weiner, whose songwriting flourished on Private Lives, the LCC double LP that was released early in 2020. “And then I thought it would never happen.”
Weiner recalled that when the Fishtown venue was being built back in 2015, Low Cut Connie was at a low ebb. “The band was falling apart,” but vowed to keep going and fill the room some day.
On Thursday night he did, playing before a mostly masked, generational diverse, general admission crowd that needed to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter a room more than twice the size of Union Transfer, which Low Cut Connie headlined pre-pandemic.
Repeatedly professing his love in profane terms for Philly fans he described as “tough, but also sweet,” Weiner boiled down the emotional evening: “All that matters is we’re gathered here safely tonight.”
A revamped eight-piece band that Donnelly — who the bandleader referred to as “Hot Buns Willy” — plus able support from backup singers Kia Warren and Liza Colby (whose band Susu opened the show), guitar player and violinist Abigail Dempsey, and a three-man rhythm section.
The two-hour show had intimate Tough Cookies moments. After closing the set with the rollicking drag queen tribute “Shake It Little Tina,” which Weiner dedicated to “my hero” Tina Turner, and the snarling “Oh Suzanne,” the singer came back out in a red robe with his head wrapped in a towel in an homage to James Brown. “We covered 650 songs while wearing this robe,” he said. “Can you smell it?”
Stripping down to his sleeveless undershirt but not all the way to his skivvies, Weiner skillfully weaved from songs from rock, pop, and R&B history in with his own increasingly impressive compositions. The rousing gospel of Private Lives’ “Help Me” was perfectly paired with a Philly soul cover of the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around,” with Warren and Colby lifting the band to a new level vocally.
Along with his own forlorn “Hollywood” and tender “Stay As Long As You Like,” Weiner played “Father Figure” by George Michael, whom he called “a genius,” on solo piano. An “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” for Charlie Watts was suitably raucous, and the most undeniable mash-up was the LCC’s “All These Kids Are Just Way Too High” segueing into Junior Walker’s “Shotgun,” Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction To Your Mind” and T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong (Get It On).”
Eagles traffic kept me from witnessing Susu’s opening set. I did arrive in time, however, for Catbite, the Philly band fronted by Brittany Luna that draw inspiration from late 1970s punk and New Wave and in particular British ska bands on the Two Tone label.
The band that celebrated its Nice One album release at the much smaller PhilaMOCA in August were completely at home on the Fillmore stage, from the opening “Call Your Bluff” to the kinetic “Creepin,” which could have been mistaken for a Specials outtake. Also of note: a predilection for political engagement, demonstrated with a cover of the Clash’s “White Riot.”