The crowd is a rousing mix of laughter and anticipation. There’s a group of people on my left; old enough that I’m certain must have, at some point, by dare, decision, or pressure, done some hallucinogenic before homeroom back in the ’70’s. They pass around a flask while a pack of smokers (not cigarettes) huddles amongst themselves. There’s this distant chant of, “STP! STP!” as stagehands break down old equipment, move in new guitars and test drums and mics. The distorted, chaotic opening act Cage the Elephant have stopped playing and retreated to the back, maybe even a bit earlier than planned, making me believe they are probably decent men on some level. While I commend them for their efforts, I came to see Stone Temple Pilots.
It’s 9:15pm when the lights dim and the stage goes dark. There are cheers and clamors, all intended to exclaim some sort of “Thank you” to this band who, in a world where we are owed nothing, in a time when companies are undervaluing their own employees and classrooms are far too packed with children for teachers to engage constantly, came to give us a show. The band comes out, heading off to their respective instruments. 1, 2, 3 and JEEEE-ZUS! Scott Weiland’s waiving his megaphone as the background graphics begin streaming in the distance. The stage lights are up full blast as he begins churning out the lyrics to Crackerman and Heaven & Hot Rods. Once a blur in black latex jumpsuits and fur coats (a decade earlier during the No. 4-era), Weiland prefers to sport ties, suits, and sweaters these days. Although not as animated as he once was, he still seems to be everywhere at once. I witness how he can still contort his body into a series of major-league fastball windups. Halfway into Vasoline, I begin to understand that every band I have ever believed to be blowing my mind when I was a teenager was simply a measly, half-assed messenger delivering a wadded note from Stone Temple Pilots, from wherever they might have been that night.
Through the beginning chords of the majestic Plush and STP’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Dancing Days, I realize that this experience is nearing religious. I try to figure out how I’m seeing what I’m seeing while at the same time not missing any details. I focus on Rob playing the bass and exchanging smiles and head nods with fans; Dean grooving to solid, chunky guitar riffs; Eric and his solid, consistent drumming, all while Scott leads the pack. I find myself paralyzed and damn-near in tears, similar to a housewife at a Tom Jones concert show in Las Vegas. I apologize inside to myself for every single solitary moment of life I have ever wasted sitting still and doing nothing.
From the brooding, brutal riffs of Down and Sex Type Thing, I find myself amongst hundreds of others, all up against the stage, somehow all in the front row together. Through the sweaty, claustrophobic encore consisting of Dead & Bloated and Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart, I begin to understand just how lucky I am.
As Scott and the gang sing the final lyrics and hit those last, precious notes, they gather at center stage and bow. They reach out and shake hands. They thank us for coming out. The lights go out and a digital facsimile of music plays from a CD through the house speakers. My friends and I make our way past the crowds, through the gates, and into a taxi. I can still feel the feedback and static from the guitar rattling my bones. Any possible excuse I have ever considered for future use has been stripped away by what I’ve just witnessed. Like I’m going out into the world to try again, apologizing to myself and God for any moment of blood coursing through my veins that I ever took for granted.
On our way to a house party, the taxi stops at a red light at an intersection that is right outside of my office. I sit there at the base of the building looking up and thinking: I go in there every day and sit in one square of that glass grid and keep my mouth shut during meetings. I count the stories up to twenty-four and try to figure out exactly which square in the grid of glass is mine. My buddy says the way the building is flanked by two shorter buildings one could argue that it looks like an extended middle finger, and therefore spending all day there could essentially pass for a rebellious gesture. Like me showing up on time and looking at a computer all day is, in it’s own quirky way, like flipping the bird to “The Man.” I think to myself what a good decision it was to skip the conference call I had to dial into that night, that the earful I’ll get from my boss on Monday will be well worth it.
We arrive at the party, right off of Armitage and Sheffield, and enter through the side. I allow everyone to enter before me and walk down the pavement towards the ominous glow, hands in my pockets, Weiland forever screaming in my head.