Scott Weiland played his first solo show in almost two years on May 18th at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. Emerging at a time when glamour, style and stardom were dirty words, Weiland embraced the classic image of rock n’ roll and represents the last era of rock stars. The early 90s grunge pioneers took the fun out of rock n’ roll and left it with angst, drugs, and flannel. He knew our time craved an iconic rock star of our own and was more than happy to step into those leather pants. And they fit well.
Despite the limbo of criticism from his critics and fans, pleasing the public has never impacted Weiland’s songs. Unfortunately, though, it took an emotional toll. Most of his critics focused on the surface, singling out the rock n’ roll clichés, simplifying his 20-year career into an easily digestible, 45 minute “Behind the Music” episode for the average couch potato. The fans can be equally harsh. On this night, they ignored the inevitable unpredictability that comes with rock n’ roll. While the launch of Scott Weiland’s autobiography Not Dead and Not for Sale was imminent, a NY tour date at the Gramercy theatre was completely unexpected.
The night started off with haphazard scheduling. Earlier in the day there was a book signing at Barnes and Noble Union Sq scheduled for 7, while the doors to the Gramercy Theatre were slated to open at 7. Barnes & Noble was packed and buzzing, Scott was late, and people were worried they’d miss the show. Some were caught up in the tough call of whether they’d rather get a book signed by Scott, or secure a spot in front of the stage. As a long time fan, I knew Scott would be late no matter the case, and I figured that as most mortals can only be one place at a time, missing the show was unlikely. The Gramercy Theatre is small and pretty easy to navigate; you can see the band from most places in the room because of its slanted shape. I went in without any expectations.
Most reviews written about the show would leave you with a disastrous impression. The major complaints were that Scott Weiland showed up 2 hours late and played all covers other than the encore song, Stone Temple Pilot’s “Unglued.” I feel for the people who may have driven in from the ‘burbs and parked their cars for a set amount of time, or whoever had to wake up early the next morning for work or school… Unfortunately, though, you can’t really plan rock n’ roll. Rock music thrives on spontaneity, and if anyone exemplifies this kind of living it’s Scott Weiland. I’m sure Justin Beiber plays his “original” material on time.
This concert was not a retrospective of Scott Weiland’s greatest hits, but rather live soundtrack to Scott’s book. Aligned with the concept of an autobiography, the book is from Scott’s perspective, not the perspective of a journalist, or a fan, and he played the songs that rotated in his head as he made his way through life. Weiland has had a solo career since 1998, so you shouldn’t buy tickets to a show billed as “Scott Weiland”, or any other solo artist, expecting to hear the set-list from their band. Considering Weiland’s tumultuous career, as a fan I’m happy for whatever I get. On this night I left with more than I could have anticipated: a book of his stories from the book signing before the show, beautiful, live renditions of his favorite songs, a brief, personal encounter, and documentation of it all. I couldn’t ask for more.
At 11:45, two hours later than planned, Scott strutted out on stage. A good portion of the crowd had bolted earlier to pick up parked cars and avoid $20 late fees. The remainder used the 2 extra hours to pound as many beers as they could afford. Pummeled with boos and a few faint cheers, Scott casually apologized and explained his lateness. “I only had 3 hours of sleep, interviews all day, sound check and a book signing”. As if it was any saving grace, he explained that the band had only two rehearsals and they had never played these songs to a live audience. The songs, he said, were his favorite songs, chosen to accompany his new autobiography. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. “COVERS? No STP? No Velvet Revolver? BOOOOO” Even with his two solo albums outside of his career fronting rock bands, the crowd still somehow was expecting Scott and a band of non-STP members to play STP songs. Boohoo.
Without missing a beat, Weiland launched into the trippy opening jam, drowning out the crowds boos to a low hum. Scott was seemingly unfazed by the disapproving crowd and disappeared into the lights, swaying his hips side to side. He had an admirable calm about him, which many interpreted as smug. Yet he was far from the “diva” title he’s been branded with. A diva may have walked off stage, or given a subpar performance, but Weiland stuck it out and silenced the crowd with a truly beautiful and unique show. “Waiting For A Superman”, by alternative rock granddaddies, The Flaming Lips followed the jam. Still the crowd didn’t give up on the pipe-dream of a STP set list, and Scott couldn’t completely tune them out. The fact that he didn’t seem to care was a turn-on to some, and passive aggressive to others. A drunken, sweat drenched, enraged girl was screaming “FUCK YOU!!!”. Given her overall vibe, I suspected she would have been that way no matter the case. Finally, after one “Fuck You” too many he yelled out his own “Fuck You” and then went into a beat poet sermon of sorts about gratitude and our power to free speech, how we live in the best country in the world, and how we’re lucky we live in a country where we can yell out “Fuck You” if we so desire. He’s right.
In defense of covers, you have to admit playing “Plush” night after night can become a bit mind numbing. An artist’s own work carries its own personal baggage. The cover is the song the artist hums in their head, the song they sing in the shower. It doesn’t get more intimate that that. This show of unoriginal material happens to have been one of the most original shows I’ve seen. Weiland played from the classics including The Beatles, The Doors, and David Bowie, but the songs I found most compelling were those of his contemporaries, band such as The Lemonheads, Radiohead, Nirvana, The Flaming Lips, and Depeche Mode. Paying respect to the classics is typical, but Scott’s sincere homage to his peers was striking. We’re more influenced by the times we’re living in than we usually care to admit. One of the strongest covers, “Into Your Arms”, the 90s Lemonheads track, has a pop melody reminiscent of STP, but less layered and lyrically laden with metaphor. The lyric goes “I know a place that safe and warm from the crowd. Into your arms I go into your arms. I can go”. Hearing Weiland deliver such a simple unfeigned lyric made for a great cover. It was also ironic hearing him sing this sweet, vulnerable song to such a rough and rowdy crowd. One of the most ethereal, otherworldly songs was Radiohead’s “Let Down”, which Scott introduced as “A that song sang me to sleep when I had no one to put me to sleep. Space Pop Genius.” The softer, less electronic rendition of Depeche Mode’s “But Not Tonight” may as well have been his own song. It added another dimension to the autobiography, (which I practically finished reading during the wait for the signing). It’s a song about rising out of the ashes with clarity and gratitude. “Oh God it’s raining, but I’m not complaining, it’s filling me up with new life.” The weaker moments of the show were the Bowie covers. Weiland’s delivery was fine, but the peppy, “let’s party” dance vibe of the songs didn’t fit the disgruntled mood of the crowd who’d rather mosh to “Piece of Pie” than jive to a Bowie disco number.
Near the end of the show, the crowd seemed somewhat defeated. You couldn’t dispute the greatness of his performance. “Road House Blues” got them revved up a bit, but the crowd was still jonesing for a hard rocking, head bobber. Scott answered with, “Do you wanna hear a punk rock song?”, and instead of playing one of his own songs, gave a nod to the king of grunge, Kurt Cobain, with “Frances Farmer.” A song that goes “I miss the comfort of being sad.” It was the perfect antidote to the discontent. Kind of contradictory don’t you think? It’s amazing how far a little grunge can go. After “Frances Farmer”, I didn’t expect an encore. The encore should be the audience’s reward for good behavior, but ever the gentlemen, Weiland reemerged from the wings.
At a solo show in 1998, Scott known for his classic pre-song quips, spat out “I’ll give you your mother-fucking STP. I need a little bit of that motor oil, so I can lube myself up and take all you macho men up your asses”. Less crass, 13 years later, he simply introduced the encore as “We wrote this song two minutes ago” before launching into the STP classic “Unglued”. The macho men were pleased. Call him a diva for showing up late, yet he was late so he could sign every book of the 300 some odd people who showed up to the book signing. Call him an egomaniac, but he’s humble enough pay homage his contemporaries. Like the title of his book, taken from the song lyric from “Trippin on a Hole in Paper Heart”. “I’m not dead and I’m not for sale”. We can buy a ticket but we can’t buy the man. We have no control over what, when or if he’ll play. So I accept the uncertainty, the danger, the confusion, the tardiness and savor the rest.
Singing and writing from his soul, Scott Weiland is alive.
After the show I hung around and thanks to my good friends, and amazing local band the The Dirty Pearls (who were the opening act to the show), I was able to slip backstage and have an encounter with Scott. He graciously let me snap these shots of him with his songwriting partner Doug Green and guitarist Tommy Black. Scott liked the “trippy” photo the best.