By Brian Ives
Twenty-five years ago, singer Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron of Soundgarden teamed up with Pearl Jam guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament to release a one-off album as Temple of the Dog. The self-titled record was a tribute to the late Andy Wood, the singer of Mother Love Bone; Gossard and Ament were his bandmates in MLB, and Cornell had been his roommate. Other than a few live appearances, Temple of the Dog has rarely performed in public.
Tonight, that changed, as the group kicked off their first ever tour at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, a quarter of a century after the release of their only album. That album is now regarded as a classic and rightfully so. But to put on a full length show, the supergroup had to draw from outside their own repertoire, and they did so in some surprising ways that delighted the audience. From the moment they announced the tour, they quickly ruled out playing anything from Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, which is not to say that the respective members’ repertoires were ignored.
The band dipped into Mother Love Bone’s catalog frequently, and Gossard and Ament seemed stoked to revisit their former band, a group that was taken from them much too soon, due to Wood’s death before their debut album’s release. “Stardog Champion,” “Stargazer,” “Bone China” and “Holy Roller” all were performed (but not “Crown of Thorns,” a song that Pearl Jam occasionally plays). “Holy Roller” featured Wood’s recorded spoken word vocals, to haunting effect. Cornell’s first ever solo single, “Seasons,” from the 1992 Singles soundtrack made the setlist as well.
But it was the covers that kept the audience on their toes: Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was probably the most well known song they covered. They dipped into the Led Zeppelin and David Bowie songbooks, but didn’t go for obvious picks, choosing “Achilles Last Stand” (an obscure Zeppelin song, if a Zeppelin song could be described as “obscure”) and Bowie’s “Quicksand.” Perhaps their most surprising choice of the night: the Cure’s “Fascination Street.” They also took on Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” Free’s “I’m a Mover” and doomed original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s “Baby Lemonade”; Floyd’s own “Comfortably Numb” was worked into Cornell’s solo acoustic rendition of Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words.”
Early in the two-plus-hour set, Chris Cornell noted “This has been twenty-five years in the making,” and said he was a bit nervous, checking his jeans to make sure his nerves didn’t cause him to forget to zip back up after a pre-show trip to the bathroom (his fly was, indeed, secured in its upright position). But that moment, and a few others like it, punctuated how Cornell, and his fellow TOTD-ers, have changed over the years. Cornell rarely cracked a grin in Soundgarden’s early days; today, he’s become a funny and dare-we-say warm performer after years on the road as a solo acoustic act. While he used to seem to be a bit ambivalent about the audience, now he seems to enjoys them.
What took so long for these guys to tour? It’s essentially Pearl Jam, with Chris Cornell in Eddie Vedder’s spot, it couldn’t have been that hard to schedule, if the will to do it was there. And the guys play the songs on their own: Cornell has revisited some Temple classics in his acoustic shows, and Pearl Jam occasionally plays “Hunger Strike.”
Sure, they may have wanted to keep the project “pure,” and leave it as a moment in time. Or maybe that playing all of those songs, inspired by the death of a friend and bandmate, would have been too much to take. All these years later, though, maybe the 25th anniversary seemed like the right time for them to do proper TOTD shows. Wood’s 1990 death (by drug overdose) was tragic; perhaps his friends can smile at the fact that people still love his music; indeed, a Mother Love Bone box set hit stores today (November 4). At any rate, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” was as sorrowful as ever, “Reach Down” is still upsetting. The songs have lost none of their power.
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The covers were a blast, and most were probably done with Wood in mind; the guy was surely a Bowie fan, and “Quicksand” was a great, if left-field, choice (and it also was a sweet tribute to the dearly departed Bowie). Free — the band that Paul Rodgers fronted before Bad Company — was a blues-rock hybrid that most Seattle bands were probably weaned on, even if they didn’t admit it (they weren’t very punk rock, after all). Rodgers would later do a stint as the singer of Queen, a band that Wood totally idolized.
Cornell and Soundgarden were often compared to, much to their chagrin, Led Zeppelin. But as Cornell once told Radio.com, as you grow up, you get a bit less self-conscious about your influences (and anyway, Cornell has clearly been geeking out pretty publicly over Zeppelin in recent years). Still, it was cool that they avoided the obvious and went with “Achilles Last Stand,” a song from Presence.
Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was a bit “on-the-nose,” but it’s a sadly timeless song, particularly a few days before Veteran’s Day (not to mention the election). Sometimes the biggest song is the best one to play. Andy Wood, one of the few Seattle guys who seemed to actively want to headline stadiums, would have appreciated that sentiment. And he’d surely approve of this tour, which will see his songs being performed at Madison Square Garden on Monday night; something he likely wanted to do himself.
Indeed, the most moving parts of the night were the Mother Love Bone songs: Wood would surely have loved playing them at the Tower Theater and MSG. It’s tragic that he never got that chance, but happily, his friends, and the fans have been keeping them alive for a quarter of a century. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait 25 more years to see Temple of the Dog perform songs by, and inspired by, Andrew Wood.
Here’s the setlist:
Say Hello 2 Heaven
Call Me A Dog
Stardog Champion (Mother Love Bone)
Stargazer (Mother Love Bone)
Seasons (Chris Cornell solo song)
Jump Into the Fire (Harry Nilsson)
Four Walled World
I’m a Mover (Free)
Pushin Forward Back
Quicksand (David Bowie)
Heartshine (Mother Love Bone)/Holy Roller (Mother Love Bone)
Man of Golden Words (Mother Love Bone)/Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
Times of Trouble
Achilles Last Stand (Led Zeppelin)
Baby Lemonade (Syd Barrett)
Fascination Street (The Cure)
War Pigs (Black Sabbath)
All Night Thing