At his coming-out party, Scott Weiland didn’t beat around the bush in addressing at least one of the audience’s recent concerns. ”Did you guys hear the rumor that STP got a new singer?” he coyly asked the assembled, just one number into the Stone Temple Pilots’ highly anticipated tour kickoff at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheatre. Actually, it was more than mere hearsay that the band had been quietly working with unknown vocalist Dave Coutts while Weiland was holed up in rehab these recent months; whether that hush-hush hookup was just an exploratory ”side project” as claimed or an actual insurance policy, the mere suggestion of a successor may well have helped with good Rocky’s revival.
Anyway, given his propensity for punmanship as STP’s lyricist, Weiland probably also meant to playfully imply that — you know — he was a brand-new singer. In that regard, this perhaps premature comeback show didn’t offer compelling evidence yea or nay. Decked out in a ’70s-gangster pinstripe suit, the new-old frontman cut as lively a figure as a fan would hope, lapsing effectively and easily into his trademark spastic monkey dance in front of the overused strobes. If he occasionally looked ill at ease during the two-hour set, that discomfort became overt only in ”And So I Know,” ”7 Caged Tigers,” and ”Piece of Pie,” the (expendable) tunes where his pitch went irretrievably off course. No trace remained of the loutishness that’d ruined STP shows past, but neither were there any earnest mea culpas or just-say-no allusions. Weiland thanked the crowd in a succession of funny voices, trying on a cowboy accent or a Vegas pose for size; this is not a guy who wants to be ”known” right now.
Nor should he be, it could be argued. Though fans and journalists might have hoped for some State of Weiland address, most therapists would agree someone this fresh outta rehab is better off shutting up. Should he even be on the road? Experts would differ. But it’s easy to see why the Pilots were eager to jump back on the horse. STP are still looking for their voice (figuratively, of course), and the players were making some deliberate pitch adjustments of their own when Weiland’s problems blew up. This year’s very different, power-pop-oriented album, Tiny Music … Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, was extraordinarily uneven, but the glammy highlights it provided the show, ”Big Bang Baby” and ”Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” suggest the quartet can move forward from smack rock into a more engaging, grunge-defying future. As for where Weiland’s at? Between the music’s powerful inexpressiveness and his own charismatic reticence, that remains a big blank, baby.