STONE TEMPLE PILOTS AT THE OBSERVATORY By Sandra Castillo
Concerts, like certain personalities, present themselves in varying degrees of latitude and showmanship, and by the sights and sounds of the newly revamped Stone Temple Pilots, the musical extravaganza at The Observatory on March 4th in San Diego was no exception. As I stood outside the venue before the commencement of the band’s performance that evening, my thoughts embraced the past, when they were at their explosive peak and frontman Scott Weiland was struttin’ his flamboyantly magnificent stuff in the white-hot glare of the spotlight.
In the arena, Weiland was a mighty tempest that proved his talent was unmatched by most of the detractors in the music scene during the 1990’s. With his provocative “I don’t give a shit” demeanor and sexual prowess, buttressed by a voice that singed with a raging, albeit raw vulnerability, his dynamic stage presence and ability to carry the weight of STP’s massive success into the stratosphere at the height of their reign propelled him into one of Rock’s greatest agent provocateurs of all time. He slithered and preened like a diamondback serpentine, roared like a beast who rocked black eyeliner and a pair of Ray-Bans like a renegade outlaw. Weiland was also respected amongst his peers as one of Rock’s most commanding vocalists, leaving his imprint and legacy in the rolling thunder and bombast of STP’s music, as it shanghaied its way across music’s bawdy, beautiful, thunderous terrain.
Sadly, Weiland’s grand illumination faded to black in late 2015, when he died from an accidental drug overdose, while asleep on his tour bus in Bloomington, Minnesota. At the time of his death, he was touring and performing with the band, Scott Weiland and The Wildabouts. Afterwards, the vacancy of his position would later be filled by Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, but in a tragic twist of fate, he, too, met up with the Grim Reaper when he took his own life in July 2017.
Stone Temple Pilots’ journey has been wrought with much victory as well as personal upheavals and perils, but in the interim, the remaining members-Dean and Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz-have stayed the course. They were able to find their man, by way of Detroit native Jeff Gutt, to seize the helm and who has proven he is more than up for the challenge to garner the lead in one of Rock’s most iconic bands. For those who may have missed the television program’s airing, Gutt was an “X Factor” competitor on Seasons Two and Three, where he performed his own stirring rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah.”
The sold-out concert at The Observatory was a rousing success as STP barreled through a litany of new songs and fuel-injected blasts from their lengthy canon of hits, including “Plush,” “Vasoline,” “Sex Type Thing” and this writer’s favorite, “Interstate Love Song.” Time is most definitely on the side of these seasoned road warriors, revealing that their musicianship and longstanding camaraderie has weathered more than its fair share of the storms they’ve endured along the way in the band’s nearly thirty-year career.
Gutt, as Stone Temple Pilots’ front-and-center, evidently holds much respect for the late Scott Weiland, as he is not attempting to overshadow or turn his memory into a kind of vaudevillian parody of the mercurial one who struggled heavily with drugs and alcohol. Rather, he is a talent in his own right and has the chops to tackle the complexity and bombast that defines most of the hard rocking band’s signature sound. I personally witnessed this as Gutt righteously held his own, as well as the attention of the audience, taking charge with his vocal momentum and fluid moves. When STP launched torpedoes with “Roll Me Under,” I sensed my psyche being turned inside out by the sheer velocity of its thrust and propulsion. It felt as if an unseen force had strapped me into the passenger seat of a Ferrari, with all four rockers at the controls, the vehicle tearing up the asphalt at one-hundred and thirty miles per hour.
As consistent and on point as he was in not surrendering to the temptation to merely mimic Weiland, there was a flash of hesitation, when Gutt seemingly became hyper aware that he was now a million miles away from the spotlight, as a contestant competing for the gold on the “X Factor” only five years earlier. It was a brief, modest reaction, on the part of the singer, to the realization that he is successfully ruling the roost once dominated by the inimitable Scott Weiland. The vexing question I posed to my inner critic was this-
How could any performer rightfully stake his claim in the center ring that once elevated Scott Weiland to international acclaim and notoriety? Fortunately, it was not enough of a distraction to disrupt Gutt’s triumphant turn at the mic, and if the applause and spontaneous roar from the audience at the finale of the concert was any indication of their seal of approval and immediate demand for an encore, which the band gladly delivered with the solid “Down” and “Piece of Pie,” it certainly attested, in the end, that Stone Temple Pilots had met its match and found its voice, once again, with Jeff Gutt.