The cheers were chilling in their own right, so heavy with genuine love and warmth; the sound of 18,000 old friends reuniting with 5 long-lost ones. Temple of the Dog, the Seattle supergroup formed in 1990 in tribute of the late Andy Wood (of Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun), played their third official show last night at Madison Square Garden in NYC, and nearly every moment of it was intensely good. Featuring Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron, who plays for both bands, the group was poised for destruction. They opened with a “Say Hello 2 Heaven” so sublime, it felt like we really were.
At first, the swells of golden light were the only thing illuminating the starry darkness of the Garden. Cornell himself was still just a shadow, taking soft, gallant steps in leather boots as he poured out his saintly vocals on “Wooden Jesus.” He often spoke of Andy, and you could feel some kind of presence whenever he did. “Had he been alive and not died at 24, he would have been on this stage many, many more times than he could count,” said Cornell, just before they sank into “Call Me a Dog.” The lights slowly turned purple, echoing the clay letters on the cover of their breakthrough ‘91 album.
The very next song, “Your Savior,” came with an impactful introduction from Cornell, who challenged “the idea that religious institutions were sort of the way for everybody.” “Especially young people,” he said, “who weren’t necessarily sure who they were or where they wanted to go, what they wanted to be. There was always somebody saying ‘Well through me, you can find your way.’ But nobody, none of you, none of us, we don’t need fucking need any individual to find who we are and where we need to go. And as soon as you hear someone say that, the good news is, you know who the fucking bullshit artist is right away. There’s no question anymore. It’s done.”
The juxtaposition of talent was unreal; a kind of wild synchronicity that just doesn’t come around often. The sound of a McCready solo alone is enough to make you feel breathless, but last night in particular, each riff felt like like a phantom punch to the gut of pure, volatile rock. Jeff and Stone, tearing it up on bass and rhythm guitar, respectively, were one with Matt’s tight, rigorous drumming, forming a formidable rhythm section with unparalleled focus. Combined with Cornell’s smoky, soothing, almost sinister vocals, which soared on Mother Love Bone covers “Stardog Champion,” “Stargazer,” and his own “Seasons” (written during the filming of the ‘92 movie, Singles, that most of the band starred in), it became an edge-of-your-seat kind of show.
“This is only the third time we’ve done this,” Cornell reminded himself quietly, with awe, as the crowd collectively lost their minds. With Matt Cameron’s distinctive rhythm reverberating in your muscles and resetting your pulse, it was impossible not to get entangled in their sound. Temple of the Dog soon brought out an unexpected cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘71 hit, “Jump Into the Fire,” before moving into “Four Walled World” a cover of Free’s “I’m a Mover,” and the fiery, forceful “Pushin’ Forward Back.”
The familiar intro to “Hunger Strike” brought out a unison gasp that almost sucked the air right out of the room. At Cornell’s request, and without much convincing, the crowd joined in to sing Eddie Vedder’s part of the famed duet, the choir of voices reliving their favorite pieces and rediscovering the song altogether. “Beautifully done,” said Cornell at the end. “That one’s for Eddie. This next one’s for David.” When everyone realized he meant Bowie, their first notes revealing an arresting cover of “Quicksand,” the room was heavy with emotion. The atmosphere made their next Mother Love Bone cover, “Heartshine,” all the more powerful.
And while Temple of the Dog’s setlists have, so far, been less unpredictable than Pearl Jam’s, the New York City crowd had a very rare gem to call their own last night. “River of Deceit,” from another in-the-family Seattle supergroup, Mad Season, was a totally unexpected cover, and the diehard fans let out a knowing scream before the music took them over. The set culminated with a heart-racing run of Mother Love Bone’s “Holy Roller,” and the theatrical, McCready-filled indulgence that is “Reach Down,” which sent him flying around the stage and kneeling into the amps to shred.
The first encore was certain, and it all started with a solo acoustic cover of Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words” from Cornell – which he dedicated to Andy, describing it as “a song that summed up who he is, and what he lived for.” He surprised us by tagging the ending with Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” sending the venue into a frenzy before the band rejoined him for a powerful “Times Of Trouble.” The near-perfection continued with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand,” a song Cornell said “has definitely been played in this room a couple times – but a couple times is probably not enough.”
This was all followed by Cornell’s “Missing,” another song written for Singles, the singer noting that “it’s only the second time it’s ever been played for anybody…ever.” They wrapped with “Fascination Street,” by The Cure, and “War Pigs,” by Black Sabbath, the band closing in at center stage like a 5-pointed star as they ripped up the ending together. The pattern of covers was not lost on Cornell, who had reminded us a few times that the group only had 10 songs of their own. “Now we’re gonna do some Joy Division, and then we’re gonna get into some Slayer,” he joked when they came out for the second encore. What they actually got into was their own final track, “All Night Thing,” – the only possible ending for a night no one wanted to end.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley