Scott Weiland's holiday crooner concert: We were there
Almost an hour after Scott Weiland's scheduled set time, the El Rey Theatre's crowd of a few hundred was getting antsy. "Come on, play some songs," one man shouted at the stage, still with its curtain drawn at 10:45 p.m. Another told a friend on the phone "I'm leaving at 11 regardless. I can't take this anymore."
Finally, a few minutes before 11, the curtain parted to show Weiland onstage in a white blazer, smoking a cigarette. Behind the Stone Temple Pilots' frontman, a vaguely nervous-looking backing band of about a dozen musicians fidgeted beneath an illuminated Christmas tree. Weiland whipped up his best Dino baritone for a loungey take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as if he were in a Copacabana of the mind. "How's the lobster? How's the steak?" he asked the alternately stunned and giddy crowd during a break in the lyrics. It might have been the most surreal night of music in Los Angeles all year.
The notoriously irascible and volatile singer — one of the '90s defining rock voices with STP — has largely cleaned up his act in recent years, reuniting the Pilots, penning a memoir and releasing an earnest solo album, "Happy in Galoshes." Now he's followed it up with a cryptically sincere collection of holiday covers, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," replete with a bossa-nova edit of "Silent Night" and a reggae version — yes, reggae version — of "O Holy Night." The El Rey show kicked off a small nationwide tour for it, and the show pushed the definition of camp past kitsch and into uncharted waters.
Weiland's transition to Greatest Generation nostalgia was far too daunting an undertaking to be a lark. For this tour he's taking out full string and horn sections and has clearly been honing his lower register for the occasion — no one disputes that the guy could tear down stadiums in his band's heyday. If he's inhabiting a character, he did his Vegas-showman, walk-talk-and-smoke act with aplomb.
But even given the testy audience, the absolute straight-facedness of the set gave it a stratospheric level of bizarre. "You know, this one was written about all our veterans," he said, dedicating "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to our fighting forces. It was a markedly different mood than when Weiland hocked a loogie in digust during a bad turn in Times reporter Chris Lee's 2008 interview.
No one could have conceivably predicted that Weiland's next big influence would be Bing Crosby. If it reflects a real turn toward healthy wholesomeness, well, all the better for him. But it probably made most of the crowd at the El Rey go home to pour a stiff mug of mulled cider and wonder what exactly had just happened.
Photo: Scott Weiland performs songs from his new holiday album "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" at the iHeartRadio Theater. Credit: AP Photo/ iHeartRadio / Jennifer Pottheiser
— August Brown