On a subzero night in February 2020, Adam Weiner topped off a string of memorable Twin Cities performances with a small Bryant-Lake Bowl show that proved he's as adept at heating up crowds by himself on piano as he is with his big, boogeying band.
Little did we know we'd spend the next two years watching the high-energy Low Cut Connie frontman play lo-fi solo sets like that one.
"My spare bedroom has gotten a lot of on-screen time since then," Weiner drily remarked.
The leader of Philadelphia's R&B-tickling barroom rock group became one of the first and best touring musicians to embrace livestream performances when COVID lockdown began a month later.
Dubbed the "Tough Cookies" series — in honor of the struggling people he hoped were watching — his twice-a-week sets from home were singled out by Rolling Stone and National Public Radio as entertainment highlights of the quarantine. The New Yorker described the virtual gigs as a "homespun variety show [with] music, comedy, interviews, spieling, shvitzing, stripping."
Make no mistake: Weiner has had a lot of fun with "Tough Cookies," but he sorely missed playing in venues where his house plants and old bathrobe aren't part of the production.
At long last, he and Low Cut Connie are hitting the road again this week, working their way back to First Avenue for 89.3 the Current's 17th anniversary bash Saturday with Jade Bird, Miloe and Kiss the Tiger (which is opening several other dates for LCC this month).
The second night of the Current's party was canceled due to touring artists worried about omicron, but Weiner sounded committed to hitting the road.
"We're doing this," he emphatically insisted of their tour. "It's not an easy decision, but no decisions are easy at this point. We're doing our best to process all the information that's out there now, and navigating this in the safest way possible.
"For fans who don't feel comfortable coming out in person, that's totally fine. We'll be back. And they can still see me doing the [livestream] shows every week in the meantime."
Part of the determination, it seems, stems from how many road shows Low Cut Connie has already postponed due to COVID — including a New Year's Eve gig just two weeks ago in Weiner's native Atlantic City, N.J., and two gigs before that in the long-supportive Twin Cities.
The band was supposed to perform at First Ave in 2020 opposite the Twins' game at Target Field honoring the club's 50th anniversary. That show was to double as a Prince tribute. (Damn you, COVID!)
Weiner and the gang were also scheduled to play last summer at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand for the Current's Music-on-a-Stick concert, but they pulled out after fair organizers declined to implement mask mandates or vaccine rules.
"One thing I think we've learned through all of COVID is there should be some kind of guardrail in place to put on events safely," Weiner said, "and in that case there was nothing. That seemed crazy."
"I sympathize with the politics that [fair organizers] were dealing with, but I can't put my band and crew at risk playing a show in what felt like an unsafe environment."
Weiner, 41, pushed into unsafe musical territory on Low Cut Connie's mid-pandemic double-LP, "Private Lives." Culled from many years of recordings, the expansive 17-song set featured a broader range of songwriting styles than the rowdy and hard-bopping hits the band was known for, such as "Boozophilia" and "Beverly."
There were stark ballads such as "Run to Me Darlin';" guitar-heavy fuzz-rockers such as "Tea Time;" one vaudevillian gem that would never get airplay due to its explicit title; plus a Springsteen-esque-by-way-of Woody-Guthrie saga called "Look What They Did," written from the perspective of Atlantic City residents left high and dry by Donald Trump's business dealings there.
"Like a lot of these songs, that one was written years ago but finally felt right to put out now," Weiner said, calling "Private Lives" the culmination of "years of random chaos."
"I feel like I had gotten people to pay attention more with certain kind of songs like 'Beverly' and 'Revolution Rock 'n' Roll,' and that gave me the confidence to try out all these different types of songs on people."
The next Low Cut Connie album will be more cohesive, he forecast. It's already largely recorded ahead of the band's return to the road.
"It's a full-on classic-rock album," he said, singling out some of the biggest albums of the 1980s — "records like 'Purple Rain,' 'Born in the U.S.A.,' 'Tattoo You,' George Michael's 'Faith' and Madonna's '80s albums. Those were records that had songs about people on the edge and people coming out of the dark — but they also had mass appeal musically, despite that darkness."
First, though, he's focused on stepping back into the stage lights after performing more than 100 virtual shows.
Some of the hundreds of cover songs that Weiner and guitarist Will Donnelly played during the homespun gigs have been chronicled in another new album, "Tough Cookies: The Best of the Quarantine Sessions." Yep, there's a Prince cut on there, plus a lockdown-weary version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."
Weiner said there's a lot more to show from all those virtual gigs, too. Already one of the most dynamic rock performers in the game — though "I won't be jumping into the crowd for the time being," he noted — he intends to mine those weeks and weeks of impromptu sessions to liven up these upcoming in-person shows with his band.
"I learned the value of what I like to call 'episodic entertainment,' " he said.
"Usually when you go to see a rock show, it's a pre-planned production not all that different than seeing 'Mamma Mia,' with the same set list from night to night and a lot of other sameness. So much more energy can be found in mixing it up more, taking chances, trying new things. I'm addicted to that energy now."
The Current's 17th Anniversary
With: Low Cut Connie, Jade Bird, Kiss the Tiger, Miloe.
When: 7 p.m. Sat.
Where: First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.
Tickets: $24, axs.com