Fans waiting in line outside the sold-out Scott Weiland Most Wonderful Time of the Year show at City Winery last night seemed genuinely stoked on seeing the grunge-rock legend take the stage as a quasi-campy crooner. “If you’ve listened to all of his stuff – solo, STP, Velvet Revolver – it’s not that different,” said a 30-something long-time Weiland fan from Baltimore. “He just wants to be Bowie. It all goes back to Bowie.” Weiland often cites Bowie, a master of metamorphosis, as a major musical influence; but Weiland’s Rat Pack holiday jazz act was no Ziggy Stardust. Weiland opened with a swinging “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and stumbled/mumbled through the bulk of it, gently bopping around the stage in his Humphrey Bogart best.
Maybe it was the warm, garland-trimmed lighting and glittery paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Maybe it was the intrigue of watching hard rock nostalgia take an almost doe-like form in an intimate venue. Maybe it was the booze. But the crowd, far from fair-weather, erupted with applause despite Weiland quite literally being at a loss for words straight out of the gate. They were sticking with his shtick, come hell or high-water slacks.
After apologizing for arriving to the stage “on Weiland time, or in other words ‘late’,” Weiland launched into “The Christmas Song,” which showcased a rare moment where his intended velvet vocals and vibrato actually came out sounding like Sinatra. Over the course of the next four holiday tunes, it became clear that Doug Grean, Weiland’s decade-long creative partner and current lead guitarist, was running the show. He gave the band (which maintained a strong, solidified sound and included a full horn and string section) its cues, kept Scott on task through frequently awkward between-song banter, and also managed to sneak in some pretty sick solos of his own.
The vibe in the venue stayed full with holiday cheer, fans feigning a collective sigh of disappointment when Weiland announced they’d be taking a short break after an inspired version of “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” (à la Bowie and Bing from Crosby’s 1977 Christmas Special). People were really rooting for this transformation, this retro reincarnation that Weiland didn’t seem totally convinced of himself.
The second set, a full-on rock and roll tribute sans blazer, breathed new life into a somewhat sedated Weiland, and gave fans a glimmer of his not-so-distant past persona as a wailing rock frontman. He seemed much happier, much more comfortable in his own skin again, and absolutely pummeled Velvet Revolver’s “Do it For the Kids,” and STP songs “Atlanta” and “Unglued.” Weiland crept back to the drumset for the widely-known “space jam” session, and pounded around alongside his drummer, the rest of the band barely missing a beat. Weiland re-donned his stark-white, velour-lapelled blazer for the encore: a growling, thunderous version of “Vasoline” that brought the late-late seated-dinnershow fans to their feet, cameras flashing and fists pumping. It was awesome.
And it was entertaining. And the Christmas song set wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wouldn’t have survived with a rowdy crowd if Weiland wasn’t Weiland and his fans weren’t as supportive as this show proved them to be. When the lights went up, people exited quickly, bustling with excitement, the faint buzz of “Vasoline” being hummed by collective lips. Which, while tinged by cabernets and somewhat out of tune, sounded a lot better leaving than Weiland’s forgotten classic Christmas lyrics sounded stumbling in.