Above: Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Wednesday, August 22. Photo by John Taylor.
“Rock-n-roll is annennergy,” slurred Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland midway through their Bethel Woods performance. “It's an energy between you guys and us...”
Whatever energy STP built with the small crowd, it happened in spite of some serious problems. With a long history of substance abuse, cancelled shows, rehab stints, and jail time, Scott Weiland has a reputation. Unfortunately, he lived up to that reputation at Wednesday's show.
There were early warning signs, like the tour shirt with no 2012 tour dates on it. I suspected it was because STP is in a particularly tenuous place. What's up? Are they having problems?
I put it all out of my head and gave STP the benefit of the doubt. Then, it was show time. Then it was 15 minutes after show time, still no STP. After half an hour, folks got restless and started chanting.
The band hit the stage about 45 minutes late, opening up with “Sin” and “Vaseline.” Right away, something seemed off. Was Weiland a little out of it? It was hard to tell. His usual stage antics include serpentine movements, strange poses, and a too-cool-to-try hard attitude. But the singing was off, too, in terms of rhythm, phrasing, and pitch.
Then Weiland started talking between the songs. He was in dangerous territory, with no blinking lights or booming music to cover for him. “Hello, Bethel!” soon became comments about the second coming of Jesus. Weiland's reptillian cool was a couple of tokes over the Lizard King line. (Or a couple of shots, or fixes, or whatever is going on.)
The rest of the band was pretty solid for most of the show. The DeLeo brothers (Rob on bass and backing vocals, Dean on guitar) were holding it down. I was in it for the non-hit album tracks, and dug “Crackerman” and “Meatplow.” The rockers, like 2010's “Between the Lines,” were chock full of riffing magic.
The show dragged with slower hits like “Big Empty” and “Interstate Love Song,” and mega-hits like “Plush.” Those tunes are just too played out for me. Maybe that's what's up with Weiland: boredom. Just point the microphone at the audience and let them sing the chorus. Who needs sobriety for that?
Sometimes, Weiland tried to freshen up old tunes with by playing with the melody and delivery. It didn't work. You need a sharp box of crayons to color outside the lines. Otherwise, your sloppiness looks sloppier.
Give the band credit: anyone on that stage with a clear head knew it was bad. It takes a lot to soldier on through that, to keep doing it for the fans who paid good money and are giving you more “nennergy” than you deserve. Maybe it was too hard to accompany an all-over-the-road singer, or maybe the whole band is seriously off its game. Whatever the reason, things got worse until “Tumble In The Rough.”
“Tumble” was my kind of rocker, and the band nailed it. Things were looking up, I thought. As a fan of 1996's Tiny Music, I yelled “Alright! 'Big Bang Baby'!” STP obliged, but it almost broke my heart. The lock-step stomp of the main riff was reduced to an off-kilter stagger. STP was lost. So was I: laughing, yelling, cursing the band.
Main set closer “Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart” was a little better. The verses were solid and rocking but the whole band lurched into the off-tempo choruses, led by Weiland's inability to sing. The band came back for an encore that included “Sex Type Thing,” and I was glad that paying fans at least got a full show (17 songs), but I was already on my way back up the hill, weighing the fallout.
So what? It's just a 90s nostalgia show, right? True. And there's disappointment even judged by that low bar. Then there's the disappointment in Weiland himself. My friends and I have always rooted for him (we actually liked 12 Bar Blues, thank you), but what can you say about this? He seems to love his bandmates and fans, but the unprofessionalism was galling. I hope he gets through the tour all right.
Finally, I wonder what this poor performance means for the other rock shows at Bethel Woods. We get so few of them with country acts, pop acts, boomer-era nostalgia acts, and middle-of-the-roaders like Dave Matthews Band doing the bulk of the business there. It took so long just to get bands as “new” as the 90s alterna-acts. I hope a low-selling debacle like Wednesday's STP show doesn't diminish the already slim chance we'll start seeing indie/alternative rock acts from more recent decades there.
Jason Dole is a lifelong resident of Sullivan County and a lifelong lover of music. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.