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... Ring in the new



Orlando should consider itself lucky to have Stone Temple Pilots booked on New Year's Eve at Hard Rock Live. It's the hottest ticket in town -- even at $100. The band's year-enders are famous for being of the "wish you were here" variety, the kind of throw-downs that you read about in Rolling Stone after the fact. The date is also an anniversary, of sorts, for Scott Weiland, who was released from prison on New Year's Eve 1999.

For this fan, it's a joy just to have Stone Temple Pilots performing together at all.

Name any rock-band drama, and the hardy members of melodic hard-rockers Stone Temple Pilots have endured it at some point in their 15-year history. Yet the four original fly boys are still standing, and standing proud, thanks to their latest full-length triumph, "Shangri-LA-DEE-DA." Even a casual observer would have to admit that Weiland & Co. nailed it again, their fifth effort in 12 years. (Frankly, the band's only musical misstep was its last outing, the uninspired, first post-sobriety stab, "No. 4.") The new CD is brimming with the same energy that inspired the multiplatform hits "Plush," "Sex Type Thing," "Vasoline," "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Bang Baby."

Drummer Eric Kretz echoes the call for celebration, when we talk about what's in store for the last moments of 2001.

"We're basically gonna rip the roof off the place," Kretz says with a laugh from his home in L.A. He promises "pyrotechnics ... acoustic stuff ... special guests" but he won't elaborate, preferring instead to tantalize.

"We did a show in Madison Square Garden a couple years back, and we had Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith come out and do a couple of songs with us. ... But then the next thing you know, three radio stations are saying, 'Come on down to the STP show tonight. Aerosmith is going to be performing with them.' It kind of ruined the surprise -- the audience was waiting for them. That's the problem with giving away surprises."

And there have always been lots of surprises when it comes to Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots.

After dropping "Tiny Music ... Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop" in 1996, STP started to fall apart at the seams. By the following year, in an attempt to prove that they didn't need the undisciplined Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo, his bass-playing brother Robert DeLeo and Kretz were releasing the self-titled Talk Show project with vocalist Dave Coutts. At the same time, Weiland was striking out on his own in the studio, laying down tracks for his first solo venture, "12 Bar Blues," released in 1998.

While both projects were dismal failures on all fronts, neither was as career threatening for STP as Scott's out-of-control battle with drug addiction, which nearly thwarted STP's 1999 comeback campaign. Somehow during the turmoil, the band found the time to record "No. 4" and launch a subsequent tour. But the law finally caught up to Weiland, and he was sent to prison, where he sat when "No. 4" hit store shelves. But the band needed Scott and Scott needed the band -- that is, if they wanted to keep up their platinum promise. So the band members stood behind their brother and patiently waited for his release.

And when he was, STP found fresh strength and resolve on an extended road trip. The new chemistry was successfully put to the test during the recording sessions for "Shangri-LA-DEE-DA."

"More than just the `resolution of the` Scott issue, it's just the fact that we did a nine-month tour -- living together, traveling together, performing together. So the bonds of communication were already well-equipped. When you have a group of people getting along so well and dealing with creative issues, business issues, the lines of communication are so well-oiled that, when you get together in a couple of weeks after that to make a record, you can just jump right in on new music."

The band felt so confident that it invited cameras into the studio for the first time. "We've never documented what we do," says Kretz. "It just had to do with the fact that the relationship between all of us is going so well that we just felt like this was a good time."

Kind of like a rock & roll version of "Survivor?"

"I hope not, but that's kind of the fear that you get. You don't want it to look stupid but you don't want it to be overindulgent with the music performance. But ... the personal stuff you're getting -- it's really exciting when you look at clips of it. Right after New Year's we're gonna sit down and really try to piece it all together. It's just miles and miles of footage."

Immediately on the band's plate is the next single, "Wonderful," to be supported by a yet-to-be-shot video and a tour in the spring. "Shangri-LA-DEE-DA" serves as both a personal and professional testament, proudly affirming, "We're back, and we're still relevant."

And still full of surprises ...

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