Like many musical acts, Low Cut Connie had a full touring schedule planned for 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now forced to quarantine, frontperson Adam Weiner decided to take to his (spare) South Philadelphia bedroom and broadcast live. With the aid of guitarist Will Donnelly, Weiner has done twice weekly shows for more than a year. He’s named the program and its attendees Tough Cookies because they were hard and resilient on the outside and sweet and compassionate inside. The pandemic both strengthened Low Cut Connie fans and made them more considerate.
The Tough Cookie livestream audience came from more than 40 countries and had its social networks: Facebook sites, a book club, dating projects, get-togethers, and has become a community and support group for its members. The Tough Cookies transmissions have grown in size and scope. The show now includes interviews almost every week, which has included such notables including Dion, Tune-Yards, Swamp Dogg, Richard Hell, Darlene Love, and Big Freedia. In addition, Low Cut Connie don’t just play their material. The band have covered more than 500 songs from all over the spectrum.
Sometimes the broadcasts follow a recurring theme, such as celebrating Bob Dylan’s birthday or the music of Sly and the Family Stone. Others are more random in their approach. The program features recurring musical segments: songs from one hundred years ago, ones that may be too lame to reproduce again (“a bridge too far”), those by Philadelphia heritage artists or foreign countries, etc. No song is taboo.
Weiner and Donnelly address the music and their audiences enthusiastically and with love. Weiner exudes charisma. He’s always in a dynamic flux. He’ll vamp one minute and offer sincere solace the next. Donnelly is an awesome guitar player with solid instrumental chops and a straight-faced persona that works as a foil to Weiner’s showmanship. So, while Adam may strip down to his Speedos and a red robe while climbing aboard the piano bench and dancing, Will stays clothed and sitting in a chair, guitar in hand with a tambourine on his foot, keeping time. The two play off each other in a friendly fashion and always look like they are having fun!
As its title suggests, Tough Cookies: The Best of The Quarantine Broadcasts collects the cream of the cover songs recorded during the band’s twice-weekly live streams. The 23-tracks offer a hodge-podge of material that reveals the band’s many influences and suggests how they see themselves and their fans in the larger world. Adam revealed in the liner notes (he never mentioned it on air) that he had caught Covid during part of this period, but he performed anyway. You wouldn’t know it from the energy he puts into these songs. He and Will are constantly playing their hearts out.
The record here only includes the songs, but none of the other comments and discussions from the livestream. There are times during a cut, such as on Madonna’s sultry “Dress You Up”, where he introduces himself. But by and large Low Cut Connie just stick to performing the songs. That may prove confusing to non-Tough Cookies who lack context and wonder why certain songs are here. For example, the Jewish prayer the Mourner’s Kaddish is sung in Hebrew with no introduction. Those familiar with Tough Cookies may remember they did this to celebrate the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death. It’s an odd track to include, following the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men”, but very much in the spirit of the livestream shows that jumped (musically) all over the place.
Most of these cuts are well-known. The songs range from classics that share little in common like James Brown’s funky “Doing It to Death”, Louis Armstrong’s jazzy “West End Blues”, and Bob Dylan’s gospel-tinged “I Shall Be Released” to oddball standards such as Ennio Morricone’s instrumental theme to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. There’s also Grandmaster Flash’s rap “The Message” and World War II chanteuse Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”. Then there are past songs that seem to have a new resonance due to national events, including Bruce Springsteen’s description of the police killing of an innocent black man, “American Skin”, David Bowie’s call for being our own leaders, “Heroes”, and Neil Young’s ode to vulnerability, “Helpless”. The roster of songs offers something for everyone.
Tough Cookies: The Best of the Quarantine Broadcasts offers an unfiltered look at Low Cut Connie and captures the spirit of the livestreams from which they come. While one may technically label this a covers record, it’s much more. It’s a Low Cut Connie album.