Stone Temple Pilots jumped into the music scene right as I was entering my high school years. For me, this was the era when I came into my own music-wise. Along with Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, "STP" (as they were deemed by the fans) was one of the bands I listened to the most. Their hit debut album 'Core' was fantastic. It still remains as an iconic album representation of the early '90s.
The follow-up to 'Core,' 'Purple,' released in 1994, was also solid. As I hope for and expect from new albums, 'Purple' carried a unique sound and style different from that of 'Core' – and it was great. But another two years later, STP released 'Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop.' Even as an STP fan, this album was a major disappointment. I only remember truly liking one track on the entire album, the first single, "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart." The rest of the album was a disappointment, so much so that I don't even think I kept the CD. Neither their fourth or fifth albums, 'No. 4' and 'Shangri-La Dee Da,' ever made their way into my collection. The band possessed something in their first two albums that they lost shortly thereafter – originality. Nearly every song on their subsequent albums sounded exactly like everything else on the radio at that time, which is exactly where I lost interest in new STP.
When I received the 'Alive in the Windy City' Blu-ray for review, I was excited to re-live some old memories from my teenage years. Not being a fan of frontman Scott Weiland's spin-off band Velvet Revolver, this was the first time that I had been excited for something new from STP in quite some time – but just as I thought about the band's third, fourth and fifth studio albums, the Stone Temple Pilots that I loved from the 'Core' and 'Purple' days no longer exist.
First off, although the band and the music itself sounds exactly like it used to, Weiland as a singer does not. Instead of projecting the same unique rock vocals that made STP sound so original when they broke out, Weiland now sounds like a standard current pop-rocker that might be covering an old STP hit – almost like karaoke from a die-hard fan doing his best Weiland impression. Sadly, as evidence of his aging, Weiland also cannot quite hit and carry the notes as well as he used to. He no longer carries the same intensity, strength and power. (Because I've never personally seen STP live, I am aware that Weiland never may have sounded as well live as he does on his potentially doctored studio albums – but if he has always sounded this generic live, I don't think they would have been much of a touring band.) As expected, Weiland's vocal performance gets stronger the deeper into the concert we get, but hearing him sing the singles from 'Core' doesn't make for the most positive of revisits.
You may be thinking, 'Luke, your opinion of Weiland's vocals not being as good as they used to be is completely subjective,' but even Weiland himself notes that he can't sing as well as he used to. During one break between songs, Weilands stops to take a breather and apologizes to the audience, claiming that at the age of "75" he needs to catch his breath every few songs.
Another odd aspect of the band sounding different is the tempo at which they perform. Literally, almost every one of their familiar tracks seems to be a slowed-down version of the way I remembered it. After reviewing 'Alive in the Windy City,' I popped in 'Core' to validate my hunch - which was correct.
Along with Weiland sounding like a pop-rocker, his frontman stage presence is also now like that of poppy rock band. Like a trendy version of Lady Gaga, Weiland keeps removing and adding to his wardrobe as if the fans want to see what new fashion he's going to don. "Innerstate Love Song" turns into "Innerstate Scarf Dance" – which is the complete opposite of what I expected to see during this show.
The setlist of the show is as follows: "Vasoline," "Crackerman," "Wicked Garden," "Hollywood Bitch," "Between The Lines," "Hickory Dichotomy," "Big Empty," "Sour Girl," "Creep," "Plush," "Interstate Love Song," "Bagman," "Huckleberry Crumble," "Sex Type Thing," "Dead And Bloated," "Lounge Fly," "Piece Of Pie" and "Trippin' On A Hole In A Paper Heart."
If you loved the Stone Temple Pilots of old and wish to take a stroll down memory lane, don't. Pop in their old albums and enjoy them the way they used to be – that is, unless you've been a die-hard follower that has enjoyed the band unapologetically all along.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment has placed 'Alive in the Windy City' on a region-free BD-50 that's housed in a standard blue keepcase. The only thing present on the disc prior to the main menu is a quick Eagle Rock Entertainment vanity reel.
'Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in Windy City' is presented with a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 encode in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Just the actual concert, the video quality of this disc is a let-down.
With no exaggeration, 80 percent of 'Alive in Windy City' is plagued with the flicker of digital noise. Be it the psychedelic projected backdrop screens or the black space that fills the screen, digital noise is almost always present. When the noise isn't destroying the video quality, the overly saturated stage lights are. Details tend to be destroyed within them.
Some of the problems with this picture come from the cameras used. A small mounted digital camera placed next to drummer Eric Kretz is unmistakably out of focus and, because it is mounted right next to a guy who is always rapidly moving, it's constantly shaking.
Know that not all of this disc is riddled with problems. High detail – like facial pores, stubble, beads of sweat and chest hairs – can be seen. But those instances are too few to make this disc noteworthy.
The audio presentation is a step up from that of the video, but it's still missing something. Two uncompressed formats are included on this disc: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Stereo 2.0. 'Alive in the Windy City' features a great-sounding concert effect that turns your home theater into a medium-size arena. Unfortunately, this environmental effect doesn't stop this dynamically fizzling mix from sounding flat.
Music emits from all channels, but mostly carries the quality of a mono mix that's been forced out of all seven speakers. Few and far between are the moments when you can focus your listening on a certain instrument originating from a certain speaker. This mix almost always sounds even. Only making this bland track sound even more flat is that fact that there's never any play with levels. Every instrument can always be heard at the exact same volume, remaining on one consistently plateaued level the entire time.
Showing how little effort was put into the mixing, during the one of the "conversations kill" moments during "Big Empty," the audience mic suddenly floods up as if the dude behind the mixer nodded off and his elbow raised the volume on accident. During "Plush," another odd mixing problem is made evident when Weiland's lead vocals begin echoing, almost like pre-feedback echoes of the mic picking up the delayed speaker audio.
Having not listened to STP's music beyond '96, I didn't expect much from a concert recorded 14 years later – but I did expect it to sound good. Eagle Rock is typically better than this. But as is, this mix isn't going to win back and fallen away fans looking for nostalgia.
Plain and simple, unless you've remained a faithful Stone Temple Pilots fan from the beginning or have enjoyed Weiland's break-off group Velvet Revolver, you might not want to venture into 'Windy City;' you're not going to get what you want. While the band is still fully capable of playing their classic titles exactly as you remember them sounding, the lackluster audio quality strips the songs from the dynamics that one would expect from a lossless concert Blu-ray. Frontman Scott Weiland's performance causes him to sound like a cheap cover band impersonator, almost completely losing the strong unique characteristics that made his voice stand out from the others during the grunge / alternative boost of the early '90s. The only thing more annoying than the bland audio is the flawed video, riddled with digital noise. Not even the cardboard cut-out of an interview special feature is worth watching. If you're wanting to hear STP sound better than you've heard them sound before, then pop one of their old CDs into your Blu-ray player, crank up your sound system, sit back and enjoy. Hearing their 20-year-old debut album 'Core' through your system is a much better way to spend the evening.