It happened when they played 7th St. Entry last year, and then the Turf Club. It happened again at Rock the Garden this past summer. Even their more low-key in-store performance at the Electric Fetus in July was rather bananas.
“It” is the tangible electric connection Low Cut Connie singer/pianist Adam Weiner sparks every time he’s in front of a Twin Cities audience.
A high-energy, piano-plunking showman who’s part Jerry Lee Lewis, part Freddie Mercury and part Bowzer from Sha Na Na, the Philadelphia rocker is a naturally gifted, booming singer with an equally rich songwriting style. The dude writes about lowdown characters and sticky situations with colorful detail and a heartfelt spirt.
But it’s Weiner’s onstage pizazz that’s usually first to turn people’s heads. He treats his stand-up piano like it’s an exercise machine, jumping atop it or kneeling below it. When he’s not pounding the keys, he’ll maniacally strut across the stage, and he revs up the crowd between songs with fervent, preacher-like banter.
Or at least that’s what Twin Cities fans have seen him do.
While Weiner and his hard-boogying band have earned raves from all over in recent years — including praise from such high-profile fans as former President Barack Obama and Sir Elton John (who’s held up Weiner as something of his torchbearer) — the singer says what he has in Minnesota is special, a fondness strengthened all the more as he looked ahead to headlining First Avenue for the first time on Thursday.
“Even at that show at 7th Street Entry, I said, ‘Damn, we really got our hooks into something here,’ ” Weiner recalled when interviewed in the Electric Fetus’ downstairs employee break room in July, right before he went upstairs and hit the store like that tornado did in 2009.
With a grin as twisted as his spit-curly black hair, Weiner listed off Low Cut Connie’s other Twin Cities shows with details — including that Rock the Garden set where the band opened the festival under a blistering sun, with the heat doing nothing to deter Weiner from wearing a shiny, gold-spangled jacket to accentuate his flashiness.
“Hey, that was an expensive jacket,” he unapologetically quipped, but then added, “You remember: It was like 60 degrees and raining earlier that day. And then it suddenly became 90 degrees and sunny.
“Right when I walked out on stage is when people started taking their jackets off, and everyone started sweating. I looked out at 8,000 people and thought, ‘They don’t know what’s coming at them.’ ”
Weiner said he’s had a similar reaction every time he’s taken the stage in town.
“Your culture of live music here is so fantastic; you have something special here,” he said, citing 89.3 the Current’s strong support and going on a riff that sounded like one of his onstage rave-ups.
“People here are open-minded, fun-loving and not segregated about music. They don’t think, ‘This is soul, this rock, this is funk.’ You have that history and culture, which makes it easy for me to just go out on stage and do what I do.
“When I go to, say, Iowa, I have to start from scratch more. It’s just a more buttoned-up culture, and I have to gradually undo that during the show. When I come here, there’s no undoing. I just go.”
Boogie and schmaltz
Weiner left Philly after high school and bounced around several cities trying to find a music scene from which to launch his career, including Memphis, Austin, Montreal and New York.
In the latter city, he took a job playing piano in a bar known for its drag-queen shows, a gig that inspired some of the characters in his songs as well as the unabashed energy of his live performances.
“It was a marriage of the boogie and the schmaltz,” Weiner said of the drag shows. “I would play Elvis while a 4-foot-10 Chinese man dressed as Diana Ross sang along. That’s going to stick with you. All the people in the bar stuck with me.
“It was a level of fun I never experienced before.”
Low Cut Connie’s second album, 2012’s “Call Me Sylvia,” was soaked in that bar’s carefree attitude and libations-fueled, woozy energy. One of the songs, “(No More) Wet T-Shirt Contests,” was specifically about Weiner’s experiences there, while the band’s initial breakthrough hit, “Boozophilia,” sounds like an anthem for any bar where patrons seek refuge.
“Boozophilia” earned even more buzz when it wound up on Obama’s personal playlist. That led to the then-president’s personal photographer Pete Souza — a fan and friend of Weiner’s — introducing him to the singer. That meeting couldn’t have come at a better time, Weiner said.
“He said to me, ‘I like what you’re doing. I like your style. Keep it up,’ ” the singer proudly recalled.
“At that point in the band, we had been turned down by every record label and booking agent, and we had no manager. I was basically a one-man wrecking crew. When Barack Obama says to you, ‘Keep it up, you’re doing something good,’ that’ll definitely put some wind in your sails.”
From there, Low Cut Connie’s six-person lineup fell into place, with backup singer Saundra Williams adding a soulfulness to Weiner’s R&B-infused tunes as the rest of the group developed a loose, swinging groove.
As “Boozophilia” became the band’s calling-card, however, Weiner has worked to distance himself from a tag given to his group by none other than the so-called dean of rock criticism, longtime Village Voice scribe Robert Christgau.
“He called our stuff scuzzball anthems,” the singer recalled, “which was cool, but too many reviews after that labeled us scuzzball, sleazeball and sometimes even frat or kegger rock. Anyone who knows us knows that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
‘Tension and release’
Many Low Cut Connie fans have been surprised over the years to learn that Weiner himself is a teetotaler, never personally partaking in the alcohol or drugs that show up in his songs.
“I’m the squarest person you know,” he declared. “ ‘Boozophilia’ and songs like it came from my experiences playing in those kind of crazy dive bars, but I have a lot more to offer than that.”
His band’s pair of 2017-18 albums, “Dirty Pictures, Pt. 1 & 2” — taken from the sessions at Memphis’ Ardent Studios where Big Star recorded — are decidedly more subdued and dramatic than their predecessors.
Weiner explores sadder themes, slower and heavier sounds and, yep, more sobering stories, especially on the first of the new records.
“I had this idea I called tension and release,” he said. “I envisioned ‘Dirty Pictures, Pt. 1’ to be full of tension, a little grimier and have more of a chaotic feeling, with some angry moments. And then ‘Pt. 2’ I always thought would be more emotional, more cathartic, more of a release.”
Just like the Connie in the band’s name (a waitress Weiner knew) and the Silvia featured in the title of the band’s 2012 album, several of the songs on the “Dirty Pictures” albums reference women by name, including “Angela,” “Oh Suzanne” and “Beverly.”
Weiner said these songs come from the same observational perspective he had behind the piano at the drag bar, except now he’s seeing his characters while on tour.
“We spend a lot of time on the road going through rural America now,” he said, “and I’m fascinated by people’s experiences and lives.
“As I age, I find the female perspective more intriguing: How do women in America get through their day? How do they live?”
While he downplayed it as more a personal choice than a professional one, Weiner believes his sober lifestyle gives him “a clearer vantage point” in his songwriting and performances. He pointed to his local surroundings in our interview to better explain that view.
“Here we are at the Electric Fetus, so take a look at Prince: He would do his thing, play all night, and then disappear. Where did he go? He went and made pancakes.
“Everything he did was a party, but he facilitated the party for everyone else; he wasn’t a part of it. I’m sort of like that, and I’m proud to fill that role.”