Stone Temple Pilots are not a band many could have expected to survive two full decades. Even acts without the internal wounds of serious addiction and ongoing conflict rarely make it this long, but when STP emerged onstage at the Austin Music Hall for a special performance at South By Southwest on Thursday, they delivered like journeyman rock stars with their shit together — tight and focused, and unburdened with the bitterness or bad memories from the recent past.
Singer Scott Weiland shimmied stylishly across the stage in a snug vest, tie and wraparound shades, rasping to an explosive “Vaseline,” as guitarist Dean DeLeo ignited bursts of noise and melody. Bassist Robert DeLeo strutted in a black suit and white patent-leather shoes, and drummer Eric Kretz pounded anxious beats from a gleaming white drum-riser. The 4,400-capacity Austin Music Hall was packed, and during 75 minutes of hits and new songs, the SoCal quartet managed to make the big shed feel as intimate and overheated as a club show.
They dove into STP’s earliest records, with the brooding, sludgy “Wicked Garden” and the aching resignation of “Creep” still tapping into some early-’90s disaffection and gloom, while the slower “Big Empty” floated to Dean DeLeo’s dreamy slide guitar, with sudden thunderous riffs as repeated exclamation points. Stone Temple Pilots were real grunge-era hit-makers for several years, with songs that remain a staple of rock radio, but the band’s renewed drive onstage after reappearing from a half-decade in limbo saved them from becoming mere oldies.
Songs from the band’s upcoming new album were unveiled throughout the set, fitting easily between the hits. “They’re brand new,” Weiland declared, “but they’ll feel like you’ve been hearing them for 20 years.” The self-titled 11-song collection, due May 25th, will be their first since 2001, and includes the riff-raff of “Between the Lines,” which sounded in Austin like sped-up Rolling Stones, with a flamboyant accent of Ziggy Stardust, as Weiland reminisced on the early days of romance with his estranged wife, purring breathlessly: “I like it when we talk about love, even when we used to take drugs.”
The taunting “Huckleberry Crumble” and “Hickory Dichotomy” were ’70s guitar rock with deep blues in their veins, as Weiland vamped center stage. He tossed his sweat-soaked vest into the crowd and promised another fresh new tune, saying “I hope you dig it,” but instead dove into “Plush,” one of STP’s most recognizable hits. The band had barely begun when Weiland held his microphone out over the crowd, which shouted an entire verse back at the stage.
For the band’s two-song encore, STP was joined by Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, introduced by Weiland as “a man who was part of the greatest rock & roll group in history,” before diving into a fiery “Roadhouse Blues,” leaving enough room for DeLeo and Krieger to stretch out on dueling leads. The night ended with an intense reading of “Trippin’ On a Hole in a Paper Heart,” another drug tale from 1996.
Earlier in the set, Weiland graciously told fans, “It’s your party, not ours.” But after tumultuous times both together and apart, Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots have learned to make the most of surviving long enough to enjoy it themselves.
“Between the Lines”
“Interstate Love Song”
“Sex Type Thing”
“Dead and Bloated”
“Trippin’ On a Hole in a Paper Heart”