Live: Scott Weiland Is Full Of Strange Merriment At The P.C. Richard & Son Theater
Better than: Losing The Drummer Boy Challenge.
The P.C. Richard and Son Theater is a small venue with a capacity of maybe 200 people at most; its size can make the space seem like a compressed TV studio. Last night, during Scott Weiland's show there, a camera rolled gently along a track to the right of the crowd, presumably to document some sort of rising action. Another camera was stationed just below the elevated VIP section, a fixed perspective. "This is being filmed," Weiland said mid-show, addressing an audience member who had passed a Christmas gift (of David Bowie DVDs) up to the stage. "So we are filming a montage of you right now."
Weiland's new record of Christmas songs, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, is an elaboration of his 2006 Tonight performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." He rendered the song classically: jazz guitar and drums, expressive strings. Last night, he stayed in that style, his set splitting the difference between songs from Wonderful and selections from the rock albums in his back catalog. ("Vasoline" in particular approached a kind of hard-bop. He danced in his old way, a sort of boneless shimmying, but it was muted and weary. The crowd reacted as if someone had removed half of the gravity from the room.)
"I have a totally newfound respect for these jazz players," Weiland said, looking sort of overwhelmed by his backing musicians. "Being in a rock and roll band and having sang rock and roll, I've always loved this music." He approached the Christmas songs as Frank Sinatra would, in a sort of low, crooning baritone. There's an unfortunate weakness to Weiland's voice, thougha simple lack of power required by the material. Perhaps to compensate, he frequently employed a vibrato that was really more of an oscillation through all the off-notes in creation. "It's one thing to sing along to this music," Weiland admitted. "It's another thing to actually do it."
But the absurd nature of the show allowed for strange and loose moments. At one point Weiland and the band improvised, with Weiland elaborating the distance between the ages 24 and 44 and how meaningful that distance can seem when you are a rock star. "Family's forever/ no matter what happens," he sang, secured maybe finally by a private realm into which he can retreat. Maybe he was actually there. "Everyone has their memories of the holiday and their family, and they're really worthwhile," he said, free-associating in a way that would gradually define the whole showcase. "[The Most Wonderful Time of the Year] isn't a Christmas album. It's a holiday album." He mentioned the troops, suddenly: "We dedicate this record to them."
The improv ended on a weird unsettled jazz guitar chord and Weiland, animated for the first time all evening, announced, "We just made up a musical!" He cotinued: "We need to make our own musical. Ever since I saw Hedwig and Rent in the early '90s... that's my generation." A pause. "Pete Townshend!" It seemed as if Weiland was locked in the '90s, reporting from there with pure artifacts of a less fractured culture, while presently performing Christmas standards with a jazz band.
Weiland can't actually contain a duality (consider his career, in which he is either high or sober, anarchically in a band or gently solo) and so the crowd couldn't receive one without some cognitive distortion. At the show's end, an audience member, as if in search of an actual feeling inspired by the performance, said, "Well, that happened."
The only self-assured component of the show was the lighting, which was impressive and overbearing and certainly televisual. The Christmas lights were set like weird luminous teeth on the stage, and the spotlights shifted from red to green in order to signify the Christmas songs. Eventually they turned a generic rock yellow, which panned across the small crowd expressively and insistently, as if unwilling to acknowledge any kind of darkness or shading. Weiland danced sluggishly into the lights and was suddenly clean of any ambiguitiesan artifact himself.
Critical bias: No matter what, I am going to be sort of imaginatively intrigued by a jazzy interpretation of "Vasoline."
Overheard: "Definitely high."
Random notebook dump: An account of the PA music before the show: John Cougar Mellencamp, "Small Town"; Arcade Fire, "Ready to Start"; Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"; Alice in Chains, "Man in the Box"; Soundgarden, "Black Hole Sun"; Boston, "More than a Feeling." Pretty sure this is precisely how to lull a crowd into nostalgia and confusion.
Set list: The Christmas Song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Killing Me Sweetly Wonderful Do it for the Kids Vasoline [some sort of weird jam that I couldn't identify]
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