“Every time we play here it’s always a really wonderful experience,” Scott Weiland said midway through Stone Temple Pilots’ secret show at New York’s Irving Plaza on Wednesday. “As long as I don’t wind up in jail.” Weiland, the frontiest frontman in the rock business, brought his band to the scene of his cancelled ’98 solo gig (when he was otherwise engaged by the NYPD) for a shockingly good show.
Battling a media-friendly heroin addiction since 1995, Weiland has seen his soul worn thin through the angsty trials of a rock star misunderstood. In full “Behind the Music” glory, Weiland fought his way back to the mainstream last New Years Eve, leaving an L.A. County jail after serving five months of a one-year sentence for breaching his probation (i.e., doing drugs). Determined to win back the favor of the folks he left hanging two years ago, Weiland put on a show that was everything an STP fan could dream of, and more.
The sweaty crowd roared as Weiland and the gang hung backstage — no doubt squeezing into their leather pants — for the rock star minimum forty-five minutes. Pre-show crowd-surfing fans had their game hats on, literally, though most were turned backwards to allow for better aerodynamics. Stage-hands peeked out from backstage and got deafening cheers. There was no flannel to be seen but with that kind of intensity, it might as well have been 1992. STP came out in shadow, discernable only by the faint glow of the giant white star that hung in the back-drop. The strobe lights flashed the second Dean DeLeo’s guitar pounded out the first few notes of “Crackerman.” Weiland, dressed all in black with a black ski cap, clasped a megaphone and strutted about the stage like a contortionist chicken just happy to be free of it’s cage. Or perhaps more like a fly freeing itself from the proverbial Vasoline.
“New York motherfuckin’ City!” he shouted to the pumped-up crowd before going into the next tune, “Meat Plow.” Unfortunately, the sound mix for the first three songs made his vocals inaudible. With a wounded hand, Weiland took time between these songs to prove that indeed conversations kill. Sad attempts at shock humor (“We’re not the Backstreet Boys — we’re the New Kids on the Cock”) left fans wondering: 1) Was Scott in prison a little too long and 2) Why can we only hear him between songs?
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STP, however, came out of the gates in full stride with the fresh legs of a band cooped up too long. As if newly acquainted with their hit songs, they played very true to the album cuts. The strobe lights pulsed in sync with the fiercely contagious opening of “Vasoline.” Even DeLeo had a smile on his face as he played his solo leaning against Weiland like a drunk Jimmy Page against a sassy Plant. “Do you mind if I start stripping? I want to be a porn star baby,” Weiland uttered, regrettably, as he went into a perfect “Tumble in the Rough.” “Wicked Garden” came next, and the crowd lost their proverbial shit. Weiland, with all the gusto and stage command of a young Perry Farrell, let out a shriek before each rousing guitar solo.
Conjuring frightening flashbacks to the last Guns n’ Roses tour, STP brought out three violinists and a cellist to accompany “Big Empty.” Thankfully, they played softly and left after a few songs. Then, as if hit with a methadone dart, Weiland took a seat as STP played unplugged through “Creep,” “Sour Girl,” “Atlanta” and, of course, “Interstate Love Song.” “Creep” had Weiland crooning on top of an amp, allowing a fan who had climbed over the balcony rail to sit with him and sing along. “Welcome back, man. We missed you,” the fan said. “Thank you very much we missed you too,” Weiland replied. To cap off the touchy feely acoustic set, Weiland walked over to DeLeo and gave him a kiss on the cheek and the band left the stage.
When STP returned, with Weiland clad in long black leather gloves, they plugged back in and had the crowd surfing again. The Pearl Jam wannabe “Plush” suddenly felt like an anthem for the lost generation. They finished the peppy set off with “Sex & Violence” and the newer single “Down,” before Weiland somersaulted off the stage. An encore quickly ensued with “Dead & Bloated” and finally “Sex Type Thing,” which Weiland called “the most misinterpreted song.” Surprisingly, everyone, including the substance-free Weiland (drinking “water with cayenne pepper, lemon juice and pure maple syrup”) was still going strong. There were even strangely appropo shouts for “Free Bird.” Weiland then bid adieu and did some crabwalk-type thing off the stage, not to be seen again.
If the drug addiction and the jail term didn’t bring Scott Weiland out of Eddie Vedder’s shadow and make him a certified rock star, this show certainly did.