Jeff Gutt, a finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA and runner-up on X-Factor USA, has just been confirmed as the new lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots. The group, which scaled the heights of stardom in the 1990s, has seen its fair share of internal strife -- particularly the firing of frontman Scott Weiland in 2013 and replacing him with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington - turned public tragedy when the former passed away in Dec. 2015, less than a month after the latter returned to his flagship band.
Stone Temple Pilots is known worldwide when their song "Plush" hit #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks Charts in 1993 and became a household name.
After searching for a new lead singer with an online audition process, the band faced more tragedy this past July when Bennington committed suicide, leaving the future of Pilots even more in question. It helps explain the air of secrecy surrounding Pilots’ return to the stage last night (Nov. 14) at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour, when surviving members Dean DeLeo (guitar), his brother Robert (bass/backing vocals) and Eric Kretz (drums) unveiled their new singer in front of a crowd of industry insiders and dedicated fans eager to see the addition to the iconic band. (Adding to exclusivity: the club forcing attendees to put their phones in locked bags for the entirety of the show, though cameramen were on hand to capture the debut.)
Stone Temple Pilots took the stage around 9:15 p.m., with each longtime member emerging one by one. The new singer made the final entrance, the crowd reacting with understandable remove: Jeff Gutt, best known for competing on seasons two and three of X Factor and a hearty rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” sauntered onto the legendary stage, seemingly aware that he might be unknown. With his formerly black swoop of hair styled into a spiky bleached coif, the Detroit native wore sunglasses and a nametag across his chest, branded “Hi, My Name is Jeff” that he removed a few songs in.
For the most part, the banter was kept through a minimum throughout, even when fellow Detroit rocker Wayne Kramer of MC5 came out to shred an extended guitar solo on the group’s classic “Kick Out the Jams.” Tonight, Stone Temple Pilots let the music mostly speak for itself. It was a tour through their catalog, from hits like “Interstate Love Song” and “Plush” to “Vasoline” and “Down,” which opened the show. The only time the energy wavered throughout the hourlong set came when Gutt announced new Stone Temple Pilots single “Meadow,” meriting a lukewarm response that turned to intrigue once the band ripped into the attacking track.
Between songs, one concertgoer remarked, “It must be shitty to fill in not just for Scott’s shoes, but for Chester’s shoes, too.” That didn’t seem to be of concern to Gutt, who seemed fully aware of the pressures and appreciative of the opportunity, grinning throughout (and at one point singling out his son, who flew in from Detroit to watch his dad from the balcony). He inhabited the spirit of the singers that came before him, his powerful voice toggling between soft moan to powerful roar, his fluid dancing recalling Weiland’s serpentine movements. It was clear that inhabiting the role of Pilots’ frontman wasn’t intended to detract from its legacy, but merely to add to it -- nothing could fill the big shoes left empty, and he seemed respectful of that.
The rest of the band, meanwhile, lived up to the expectations they’ve set throughout the decades, as tight as any aging rock group with masterful command of their instruments. The notion that they’ve become something of a glorified tribute band to themselves didn’t seem to hold weight as the night came to a close -- this new incarnation may have deep roots, but it certainly felt fresh.
For those who couldn’t make the show, the concert is set to air on Friday (Nov. 17) at 5 p.m. ET on Sirius XM’s Howard 101 and Lithium channels.