Review: Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, Atlantic City

If you’re a rock music fan, you’re probably familiar with the controversy surrounding the Stone Temple Pilots and their former lead singer, Scott Weiland. The band booted the mercurial vocalist this spring after a long on-off relationship, spurring a flurry of law suits.

While Mr. Weiland has been touring with his own band, The Wildabouts, STP made the jaw-dropping decision to replace him with Chester Bennington. Bennington accepted the gig, though he remains the front man for the massively popular rock-rap group Linkin Park.

Weiland etched his name into rock history with his versatile singing style, creative melodies, and legendary live performances with STP, but his recent solo performances have met with mixed reactions. Some appearances have been described as transcendent, and others decried as train wrecks.

Just as no one knows quite what to expect at a Scott Weiland gig, nobody knew what to expect when STP with Chester Bennington hit the stage on Saturday night at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. This was only the third official show for the new lineup, not counting a few surprise appearances and charity events.

The show was opened by hard rock act Filter, which scored big hits with Hey Man Nice Shot in 1995 and Take A Picture in 1999. If I could describe lead vocalist Richard Patrick with one word, it would be ‘grateful’. Mid-set, he gave an honest, wrenching soliloquy about his struggles with past demons.

“The first time around I didn’t meet any of you. I was wasted on the tour bus.  Now I want to meet ALL of you.” Patrick said as he climbed into the audience. Later he instructed everyone to meet him in a corner of the establishment after his show.

Filter did an outstanding job opening the show. As much as I would’ve enjoyed meeting Mr. Patrick, I didn’t want to leave my seat. It was a good one, second row balcony. We were so close it felt as if we were hovering above the stage. Here’s a clip of Mr. Patrick performing admirably while crowd surfing.

Filter Richard Patrick

In order to obtain prime seating, I signed up for a “meet and greet” with the band. I’d never participated in a meet and greet before, but the price seemed reasonable, and it was the only way to guarantee outstanding seats. So, I went for it, and prepared to meet the members of the band.

You can’t tell much from meeting any person for just a few minutes, but my impression is the guys seem very genuine and down-to-earth. First in line was Mr. Bennington. He was polite and at ease. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his new gig. He smiled, “Hey man I’m just here to have some fun.” I moved on while my wife, a big LP fan, spoke to him at length.

Next was drummer Eric Kretz. I think Eric is one of the most underrated drummers in the music business. I’m not a drummer (I play guitar, as many of you know) but I can tell that Mr. Kretz knows exactly what to play and went to play it. Unlike some flashier drummers, he puts song above showmanship.  We had a brief, cordial conversation.

Next was bassist Robert DeLeo, the man who wrote the music to hits like Interstate Love Song. There aren’t too many artists about whom I can say, when I hear a specific guitar riff, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” But I do feel that way about many STP tunes, and I told Robert so. He chuckled, “And you’re going to hear them again tonight.”

Just for fun, I pulled out my phone. “Robert, I know you have a lot of fans, but let me know if any of them has ever done anything like this.” I had the following clip loaded on my phone, fast-forwarded up to the one-minute mark. Robert bent over, his ear to the speaker, and I played about ten seconds of this clip, from 1:00 to 1:10:

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000195932&play=1

Robert laughed out loud and grabbed his brother, guitarist Dean DeLeo, by the shoulder. “Dean! You’ve got to hear this!” Dean listened to the clip, while Robert gave me an appreciative bear hug. Very cool.

Back to the show. About 20 minutes after Filter left the stage, a jangly, upbeat instrumental version of the Beatles’ I Feel Fine” began to play. The lights dimmed, and the band took to the stage. After a few thundering chords, Chester intoned Mr. Weiland’s lyrics.

Pleased to meet you, Nice to know me

STP crashed into their opening track, Down from the 1999 album No.4.  The sound was sharp and crystal clear. This was my fourth STP show, and to my ears it was the tightest the band had ever sounded.

Down

Right from the start, it was clear that this band was on a mission. The show had a ‘brand new’ vibe to it, as if Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington (the official name of the band) were a completely new act, out to make a strong first impression. They did. The playing was crisp, with Dean DeLeo flawlessly shifting among multiple guitar parts, one moment strumming a grungy rhythm, the next wrenching a vicious lead, as if he were ripping and tearing the sounds from his tortured axe.

Dean Solo

Bennington continued to handle the vocals admirably as the band launched into their glam-rock hit Big Bang Baby. As the night wore on, it became clear that he was more than up to the task, both as a vocalist and a front man. The band, especially Dean, grinned widely at the enthusiastic crowd response to deep cuts like Church on Tuesday. They were playing songs they hadn’t attempted in years, and they were crushing it.

I noticed sharp contrasts to previous STP concerts, and one dealt with the backing vocals. Chester and Robert nailed nearly all of their harmonies, and it was apparent they’d rehearsed. The band seemed tight and energized, as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. It was clear that they were having fun, and the audience roared its approval after every song.

Also, on several tunes, Robert augmented his bass parts during Dean’s solos. This filled the empty space that is sometimes left during live performances, as the rhythm guitar parts beneath the solo are missing. This tactic worked amazingly well. At one point, with both brothers soloing together in counterpoint harmony, my wife quipped, “Is that Geddy and Alex DeLeo?” a reference to the prog-rock band Rush. It was unexpected, and very well done – but not overdone.

The biggest contrast of all? The four member of the band seemed genuinely happy. They were kicking ass, they were enjoying it, and it showed. The audience picked up on that too.

During the encore, Richard Patrick joined the band onstage for a rendition of Piece of Pie:

STP with Richard Patrick

As I mentioned, I’d seen the band on three earlier occasions with former lead vocalist Scott Weiland. Every time I saw the band, they were great. On two of those occasions, I didn’t even mind waiting the extra hour that it seemed to take the band to find their way to the stage, because they were that good. The question on everybody’s mind is this: How did the new STP with Chester Bennington stack up against the classic version?

The answer is this – don’t compare them. This is a different band. It’s a new band that just happens to have one of the most amazing back catalogs in the history of rock. I will always appreciate and revere the original STP, but this isn’t simply the same band with a fill-in singer. This is something special. As Robert said into the mic as he left the stage after the final encore, “Spread the word.”

 

 

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