Review: Scott Stapp roars back to life in comeback tour kickoff at the Palladium in St. Petersburg
Gone is Scott Stapp’s mop of long, stringy hair, a symbolic relic of his trying and troubled past, replaced with a more manageable mini-mullet. Gone, too, is the sight of his sweaty and shirtless twentysomething torso, covered up with a grown-up black V-neck.
“Tonight I feel like I stand here a free man,” Stapp said on the first night of his Proof of Life comeback tour, which kicked off Friday at the Palladium in St. Petersburg. “And man, it feels good.”
After all Stapp has been through over the past 18 months, it should. Following a trying and traumatic stretch that included a public and viral breakdown, and an equally public struggle to save his marriage and family, the 42-year-old Creed frontman is ready to resume his place on stage. The 850-seat Palladium may be a far cry from the areans and amphitheaters Creed played back in the day, but a relatively intimate (and very sold-out) gig among family and friends in his home state of Florida is as good a place to start as any.
If Stapp was nervous about his first public North American gig in well over a year, he didn’t show it, striding around with confidence while roaring, flexing and gesticulating with the mic, just as he did in Creed’s heyday. The crowd was so close he could almost look them in the eye, and the historic Palladium — a building not exactly used to concerts this loud — shook with each crunching chord.
Stapp’s setlist pulled almost equally from the Creed songbook and his two solo records. And while he offered no new music on Friday, many of his lyrics — always more candid and self-aware than he’s given credit for — did take on a new poignancy in the wake of his bipolar breakdown. “I can’t forget what I’ve done; every day I live with the consequences,” he sang on Slow Suicide. “No excuse for your sickness; it’s your choices that got you here,” he sang on Proof of Life.
How does Stapp sound after all these months off? Well, let’s just say nuance and precision were never his strong suits. He doesn’t hit all the notes so much as bludgeon them, growling and roaring with all the grace of a grizzly. That can work on a muscular track like Creed’s Bullets or What If, when you need a high-octane vocal to match those crunchy downtuned riffs. On more textured tracks like Justify or Only One, not so much.
One could pick nits all night about Stapp’s voice; lord knows he’s heard it all before. But late in the set, he began to do more than just sing.
All night Stapp had said little of his breakdown and recovery — no confessions, no sob stories, no mea culpas. Then, before his redemptive survival song Hit Me More, he began to open up.
“Life’s gonna keep coming, man,” he said. “It’s gonna keep coming. And it’s not always gonna be easy. In fact, it’s mostly hard.”
Then Stapp said he met a girl that day who’d come to the show with her father. When she was a child, she told him, her dad would play her With Arms Wide Open, Stapp’s Grammy-winning ode to new fatherhood.
“I looked at he father and I could just see this connection between father and daughter, and it was beautiful,” he said. “I have three of my own. I know that feeling.”
Stapp dedicated the song to his kids Jagger, Daniel and Milan, who’d come to St. Pete for the show. The entire crowd stood for the first time all night, and stayed there for three more monster Creed singles: Higher, One Last Breath and My Sacrifice. With each song, Stapp fed off their energy, roaring a little louder, pumping his fist with a little more oomph, slapping fives with the fans in the front.
“It really moves me every time when you share a story with me about how the music has been by you, or been your friend through some difficult times,” he said. “I’m right there with you, because it’s been there for me, too. And you’ve been there for me. We’re in this journey together, my friends. We are definitely not alone.”
By the end Stapp was smiling, and the house was still on its feet. There are still a lot of people cheering for him on this tour. To make it all the way back, he just needs to keep giving them a reason to cheer.
-- Jay Cridlin
My Own Prison
Proof of Life
Jesus Was a Rockstar
Hit Me More
With Arms Wide Open
One Last Breath