Will the real Scott Weiland please stand up?
No, really, will he?
I’m only asking, because I refuse to believe that the person I saw perform last Friday night is the same Scott Weiland I grew up listening to. I refuse to believe that the once-electrifying presence behind “Purple” and “Tiny Music…Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop” has been reduced to a strung-out shell of his former self.
But, alas, my familiarity with Weiland’s past, present, and future left me no choice but to accept him as the real McCoy, and pray that it couldn’t possibly continue to be as bad as it seemed.
There’s a moment during the second season of Dexter in which everyone’s favorite serial killer with a conscience agrees to open himself up to the masses during a 12-step recovery program. He speaks gravely of a dark passenger whose sole ambition is to steer him away from the light and place him in a situation where he must cultivate his bloodlust by any means necessary.
Regardless of how hard he tries to quell the demons, the emptiness lingers, leaving him conflicted as to whether or not eliminating the driver is the only option for purging himself of the passenger’s affinity for moral hazard. It’s a watershed moment for both Dexter and his audience, because, for the first time, his guard is lowered long enough to let everyone else in on how he goes about processing the real-world consequences of his addiction.
The weight of this scene haunted me as I watched Weiland drift through 80 minutes worth of material inside The Bear’s Den at Seneca Niagara Casino, because it’s always appeared as if the former Stone Temple Pilots frontman has been stricken by similar circumstances. His demons are just as merciless, as they’ve left him with one professional cicatrix after another in the process of alienating him from the only musical brotherhoods he’s ever known.
Hearing Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) trying to fill his shoes in Stone Temple Pilots has to be eating away at him, but I often wonder if he’s vulnerable enough at this stage to admit his mistakes. The absence of any meaningful crowd interaction means that he’s either reverted back to his old habits, or he’s bitter about having to start from scratch on the casino circuit while the rest of STP continue to reap the benefits of their 20-plus year run.
Perhaps it’s a combination of everything that has transpired in his life since initially breaking through in the early ‘90s, all of which was documented with devastating detail in his 2011 memoir, “Not Dead & Not For Sale.” He’s rocked hard and lived even harder in an industry that sees too many of its brightest stars burn out under the pressure emanating from the desire to please everyone else at the expense of their own inner sanity.
His latest backing band, The Wildabouts, is serviceable enough, but I never got the sense that they were in it for the long haul. As they transitioned from one off-kilter STP cut to another, the expression on Weiland’s face was one of indifference to anything resembling the camaraderie indicative of a truly great band.
“Crackerman” arrived as an uninspired knockoff, “Big Empty” was depressingly flat from the opening slide of Jeremy Brown’s Gibson Les Paul, and “Dead and Bloated” featured a hustling tempo apparently for no other reason than to allow Weiland the opportunity to exit even sooner than expected.
Even during the set’s finer moments such as “Tumble in the Rough” and “Sucker Train Blues,” you could sense that Weiland’s attention was waning, that he needed to retreat to the bus and reflect on where exactly his life and career are heading in 2014. It pains me to say it, but, as transcendent as his appearance with STP at Rochester’s Main Street Armory was back in 2011, his latest stop in western New York was the polar opposite of that.
A listless, awkward affair that did the worst thing any show could do for an artist needing to atone for past transgressions. It swung the door open a little too widely and enabled the laity to observe how far their rock ‘n’ roll idol has fallen.
In the compressed confines of The Bear’s Den, especially, that’s never a pretty sight.