Live feature (Classic Rock magazine)
Low Cut Connie
Brighton Prince Albert, December 5, 2017
Laurel and Hardy and many others since have turned it into comedy gold. It has caused damage to property and injuries or even death to humans and small animals alike. Removal operatives across the globe fear this task above all others. But tonight, just like many other nights, Adam Weiner’s piano must be lifted up the stairs to a small venue. And then lifted back down a few hours later. At least by the time the latter task has to be completed, this hefty but handsome 30-stone beast will have shed a few pounds, after it has featured prominently in a Low Cut Connie live show, in which it will lose several parts of its anatomy due to being pounded, drummed, stomped, walked on, jumped over and eventually tipped on its back in the name of rock’n’roll.
As we meet this Philadelphia quintet in their Brighton dressing room before a show at The Prince Albert public house, lead singer and ivory-tickler extraordinaire Weiner is doing careful stretching exercises as he continues to ward off the physical stresses and strains he regards as “an occupational hazard” of being one of America’s most exuberant pianists and frontmen, and the head of a band and record label that can’t afford to fly roadies to the UK.
Nonetheless, few men you’ll meet are more committed to their chosen path in life, and as he eyeballs your correspondent across the dressing room it’s with the intensity a preacher might display as he addresses a member of his flock.
“Johnny Sharp,” he begins. “What’s it like to have a cool name? I grew up with kids calling me ‘A Weener’ on a daily basis.”
Painful though that must have been, it probably helped instil in this New Jersey native a strength of character that is serving him well right now. Low Cut Connie’s fourth album on their own Contender label, //Dirty Pictures (Part 1)//, has earned plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic for its raucous blend of piano boogie, rock’n’soul and kinetically charged barroom rhythm’n’blues. It was voted one of this magazine’s albums of the year, and their single Revolution Rock’n’roll voted one of the top tracks. Their celebrity fans include Barack Obama and Elton John, and they’ve been sufficiently emboldened by their burgeoning live reputation across the pond to book a debut British tour.
And while a clutch of dates in UK venues on what has uncharitably been labelled ‘the toilet circuit’ might be a bit of a comedown given that the band have been selling out four-figure capacity venues back home, Weiner for one is only too happy to build up a fanbase the old-fashioned way.
“We start in the dive bars and the little boozers – the toilet circuit, as you rather disrespectfully put it – and carry people up with us. You need to have those experiences when you’re really close to the people you’re trying to entertain so you can touch them, and then you go on a conversation with them through the different levels of venues. I’m appreciating this tour because we’re eyeball-to-eyeball with all you snaggle-toothed British motherfuckers.”
Adam would like it to be known that he was not the one who brought up the issue of British mouths’ infamously shoddy standards of dental care. Earlier he had introduced the band’s bass player Lucas Rinz as ‘Colgate’, so nicknamed due to his toothy grin, and it led to a wide-ranging discussion about the cultural differences between our two nations, divided as they are by a common language.
Chewing gum and beer were sampled and broadly approved of, Twiglets and pork scratchings were picked at but generally eschewed, Waitrose chocolate was praised and our poor choice of salad options lamented (What do they expect? We didn’t manage the British beat invasion on coleslaw, chaps). Your correspondent taught them the ancient British art of beermat flipping, and Mr Colgate foolishly set up a contest to find who could squirt as much ketchup directly into his mouth as humanly possible (they mainly have non-squeezy bottles over there so maybe they’re easily impressed), resulting in a scene more befitting of a 1984 Ozzy Osbourne photoshoot and a crushing victory for the host nation.
A challenge these men are more suited to is winning over a crowd of any shape, size of complexion. In fact it’s a battle they relish.
“I like the bored, the hostile, the inattentive, and the small audience,” says Weiner, “because it makes you better at what you do.”
He also seems to raise his game when faced with other logistical curveballs. Two nights previously, the band arrived at Gullivers in Manchester to discover that try as they might, Adam’s hired piano (his regular upright, Shondra, couldn’t be shipped over) wouldn’t go up the stairs. A major snag for a band whose whole sound is based around the old Joanna.
“It was our first show in five years without a piano. So I had to improvise. Backstage there was this beautiful yucca plant, and I carried it through the audience to the stage, convinced it would give me spiritual strength to perform. I did whatever you can do on God’s green earth with a stool and a chair and a yucca plant, and it turned out to be one of our best shows of the tour.”
Couldn’t they have sourced a digital piano from somewhere and played that?
“That’s like saying ‘can’t you have sex with a blow-up doll?’”
How did the plant respond? Was it revitalized by being sung to and is now growing faster than ever?
“Uh, no it was ruined. It’s kind of just mud now.”
As explained earlier, there are no such problems with the show’s central prop… yet. And even though tonight’s show is not sold out, that doesn’t worry our brave soldiers.
Guitarist James Everhart takes up the story: “Last year we played this shithole bar in Lincoln, Nebraska – Nirvana played there too, actually – and we get there and there’s five people in the place, and they’re wasted. They sell bowls of alcohol, not just glasses. So you can get a bowl of rum’n’coke for 20 bucks in a bowl, and share it with your table, so these people are fuckin’ lit at 7pm.
One of the guys ended up puking all over the urinal as we were loading in. Then there was another guy there by the name of Chick, and he was about 5ft5 and 350 pounds, with no shoes, and Chick walked into the bathroom with no shoes, probably walked through the puke and the piss with no shoes. But this is became a turn-on, because as Adam always says, the shows that are sold out are the easy ones. The ones with five people there where you’ve really got to dig it out.
“You can feel every single person’s eyes when it’s like that,” says Rinz. “You can feel the judgment – it penetrates you. When there’s 1,000, 2,000 people everyone thinks you must be good enough to play there so everything you do they cheer and think it’s brilliant. When there’s six people they’re like, ‘OK, there’s only six of us, so you probably suck, whaddya got for us?’
“So Adam ends up standing on the bar, in his long john underwear, striped down and he had a pumpkin and a cigarette in his mouth and he’s jumping up and down everywhere and the bartenders don’t even look up from their phones.
“I’m in my fucking underwear,” says Weiner, “jumping up and down on the bar, whipping people with the mike cord, and I’m like, what else can a man do?”
He shows //Classic Rock// a picture of that night, which resembles a very low budget, macabre sequel to the Halloween series. Can this evening possibly match that?
Probably not, given that the audience are already around 60 strong when LCC gather at the door of their dressing room, raise a tequila glass each and shout their pre-gig motivational slogan, ‘SLOW! HEAVY! SEXY! NASTY!’
Thus fortified, Mr Weiner, resplendent in a wifebeater vest and velour jacket along with a garish gold amulet, takes his seat at the piano and instantly locks eyes with each person in the front row, one hand on the piano, the other pointing each punter in turn as if asking them, MC5-style, ‘Are you ready to testify?’
Possibly not quite yet, but many are mentally preparing their statements by the end of second number Boozophilia, as Weiner has already performed the kind of stool-perching gymnastics, ass-shaking dance moves and elastic mike-stand contortions that would make Jerry Lee Lewis look shy and retiring in comparison. Rhythm guitarist ‘Baby-faced Will’ Donnelly is the first casualty, as Weiner manages to kick him squarely in the quiff.
Meanwhile, his bandmates look on in amusement as if wondering what stunt the guy in front of them is going to pull tonight, but nonetheless manage to keep a gutsy groove right on the money. Laconic sticksman Larry Scotton, resplendent in a bobble hat, and guitarist James Everhart, half his face obscured by an oversized trucker’s cap, may look like they’ve been recruited from a nearby soup kitchen compared to Weiner and their handsomely leather-clad bandmate Donnelly, but unlike some of their suavely besuited counterparts trying to revive the spirit of traditional rock’n’roll, the disjointed appearance of it all somehow adds to the feeling of their band being a happy accident… which, according to Weiner, it kind of was.
“When this whole thing started, it wasn’t intended to span time,” he said earlier. “It wasn’t like we were The Clash and there was a mission statement and we were going to take over the world. It was seat-of-our-pants – this isn’t gonna last six months so let’s have fun for a few weekends.
“Rock’n’roll used to be the dumb thing you did to not get a job. You weren’t supposed to try. It’s only recently we’ve gotten better, and really turned into a solid crew.”
And their sound really gels into a righteous romping racket on the triple combination punch of Shake It Little Tina, Dirty Water and Revolution Rock’n’roll, during which the Prince Albert’s stage can no longer contain for this man’s performance, and he’s down in the crowd, lashing the sweat from his oversized reverse mullet fringe across our helpless chins.
“I love each and every one of you, Brighton,” he says with the hint of a smirk, and it’s a feeling that’s getting more mutual with every passing number. And when they finish the set with a cover of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs you’re reminded of how much great rock music has been piano-based, and how well this band rekindle that percussive, insistent spirit. When they then encore with their chunky, funky version of Prince’s Controversy, it turns into an anthem to inclusive rock’n’roll anarchy as we chant together, “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude/ I wish there was no black or white, I wish there were no rules.”
Perhaps thankfully, the nudity part of the equation doesn’t come to pass, but the normal rules of polite behaviour soon get a further trashing when Donnelly and Everhart, following their leader’s example, climb on top of the piano to lead a crescendous climax of the show as Weiner struts off, James Brown-like, to the wings. The only problem is they don’t share his skill at piano surfing, and soon the whole thing comes crashing to the floor, removing the top and back of the instrument like a collapsing car in a Buster Keaton movie.
High jinks indeed, but when we visit the band backstage afterwards, Weiner’s piercing, messianic glare and bold pronouncements have gone, replaced by a glazed, punch-drunk expression and a soft whisper.
It reminds us of something he told us earlier.
“All my favourite performers leave everything on the stage. They are the facilitators of a wild time for the audience, but then when the show’s over they’re often quite introverted. So when I’m done I find myself completely drained, and I need to go off into my cave and not exist for a while. I need to go recharge my batteries so I can go again the next night.”
Fair enough, but what if there’s no piano after tonight’s shenanigans?
“It’s fine,” he murmurs. “We can patch it back together. But… I think we might not get our deposit back.”