With such a dark and depressing year as 2016, we all needed something positive to brighten our current situation. Temple of the Dog (TOTD) provided that light for me on July 20 when they announced their first-ever tour to commemorate its 25-year anniversary. On November 5, that light intensified tenfold when I was fortunate enough to see Temple of the Dog at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. To be a part of rock history in such an incredible way was moving and brought tears to my eyes and chills down my spine.
It all began in 1990 with the tragic death of Andy Wood of Seattle’s Mother Love Bone. Andy’s passing deeply affected many people in the Seattle rock scene, for he was a true musical inspiration and genuine human being. Among these people was Andy’s former roommate Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden. Torn up from intense grief, Cornell wrote two songs about Andy, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down,” and eventually called in Mother Love Bone (MLB) and future Pearl Jam members bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard into the studio. At the time, Ament and Gossard were playing with future Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and invited him to join. Current Pearl Jam and former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron was asked to play as well, forming Temple of the Dog. Also, future Pearl Jam singer/frontman Eddie Vedder, who at the time was in contact with Ament and Gossard, was brought on by Chris Cornell and asked to sing the duet “Hunger Strike” with him. Unexpectedly, the group quickly created the 10-song album titled Temple of the Dog and released it on April 16, 1991. 25 years have passed, and the album is still a major success. Without a doubt, Temple of the Dog is one of my favorite albums of all-time.
November 5 was one of the best nights of my life. My dad and I trekked four hours from Syracuse to Philadelphia to see TOTD play at the Tower Theater for the group’s second and last Philly show of the 8-date tour. Plowing through our dinner so we could reach the venue as early as possible, we waited in line for about 30 minutes before the doors opened. I bought a TOTD poster while on line, which my dad was able to place in our car before the line started moving forward and into the building. We all could not contain our excitement, as the history-defining concert grew closer. My dad and I even made a friend in line named Bob.
After what felt like hours, we finally entered the Tower Theater pumped to see Temple of the Dog for the first time. Inside, we bought concert t-shirts, stickers, and a poster. My dad also purchased a beer for Bob, and the three of us chatted before the show, exchanging concert stories and Pearl Jam and TOTD love. Finally, we took to our seats in the lower balcony and eagerly waited for the concert to begin. The Tower Theater is an excellent venue, and our view of the stage was unobstructed and the closest we have ever been at any of the Pearl Jam shows we have been to so far.
Fantastic Negrito opened up for TOTD and put on a dynamic performance. I had never seen a performer like Fantastic Negrito before, and it was a real treat to listen to some smooth blues-rock with an explosive and poetic frontman. It was an interesting choice to open for TOTD but one that I was very glad was made.
Although Fantastic Negrito lived up to his name, I was solely focused on TOTD and could not contain my excitement. Around 9:20, the lights dimmed and the crowd erupted into cheers and screams of joy. TOTD had taken the stage for the second time on its historic tour. I was used to seeing Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Matt Cameron walk on stage, but seeing Chris Cornell grace the stage was a new high for me; I was jumping out of my skin with enthusiasm, ready to be transported to a happy place for the next 2 hours. Happy place does not even begin to describe the feeling of TOTD’s live performance.
TOTD opened up with an insane performance of “Say Hello 2 Heaven” off of their self-titled album and never looked back. In simple terms, the concert was nothing short of a spiritual experience. Seeing a band live that I never thought would be possible was a dream come true, and I am eternally grateful that my dad took me to see them — he is the best father I could ask for. Chris Cornell’s voice live is impeccable and incredibly powerful, particularly during moments where his grief for Andy Wood was heightened. Towards the beginning of the concert, Cornell discussed why all of us were there (for Andy) and how amazing it is that we were all there in that unprecedented moment.
From “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” Temple of the Dog continued with more from its album, masterfully playing dynamites like “Wooden Jesus,” “Call Me a Dog” and “Your Savior” all in a killer row. Hearing “Wooden Jesus” live was definitely a bucket list moment for me because that has been one of my favorite TOTD songs ever since I first started listening to them. Later on during the show, TOTD continued with their own music with amazing performances of “Four Walled World,” “Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Reach Down,” “Times of Trouble,” and ending with “All Night Thing.” Witnessing “Reach Down” live was nothing short of a religious experience, for Mike McCready is without a doubt one of the best yet most underappreciated guitarists of all-time. “Reach Down” is a song that includes an approximately five-minute guitar solo that McCready destroys live. The man is not human — he is a guitar god. Everyone knew that song by heart and screamed the lyrics along with Cornell. “Times of Trouble” was another bucket list moment for me (yet I believe every moment was). TOTD surprised us with an unreleased song “Missing” that they had never performed until that night. It was another first in a long series of firsts for the night.
One of my favorite moments from the concert was when TOTD played “Hunger Strike,” one of my favorites off of the album. The song is meant to be a duet, so normally Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder sings the second part alongside Cornell, but Eddie was not there at the show. Instead of Eddie singing his part, the entire crowd filled in for him. We were a part of the performance in a way that was integral to the song because if the crowd did not sing Eddie’s part, then the song would not have been complete. My throat really hurt after that song because I had never belted a song out louder than that one; it brings chills to my body now thinking of how beautiful of a moment it was being able to sing as one giant unified group. Singing with Chris Cornell was a magical experience, and it brought tears to my eyes knowing that I was permanently a part of rock history – even if just a small piece of it.
Not only did TOTD perfectly play their own songs, but they also did so with the many covers they performed. In total, TOTD played five Mother Love Bone songs – “Stardog Champion,” “Stargazer,” “Heartshine,” “Holy Roller” and “Man of Golden Words.” “Stardog Champion” and “Stargazer” are two personal favorites of mine and hearing those in concert was insane, particularly since there would be no other way to hear those songs live. In “Stardog Champion,” I noticed that Cornell changed the lyric from “I’m a stardog champion” to “he’s a stardog champion” as a nod to Andy Wood and his contribution to the Seattle rock scene. Before singing “Man of Golden Words,” Cornell explained how for a while he was unable to listen to this song because it reminded him too much of his dear friend Andy. It was a moving testament to Andy’s talent and spirit that brought me to tears as the song progressed. As an acoustic performance, “Man of Golden Words” felt more intimate and provided us with a special insight into Andy’s beautiful soul. Cornell blended part of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” into the end of the song, which ignited added enthusiasm to the already-hyped crowd. TOTD certainly did Andy and Mother Love Bone justice that night.
Apart from the MLB songs, my favorite covers were “Seasons” by Chris Cornell, “River of Deceit” by Mad Season, “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin and “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. Cornell’s hauntingly beautiful voice during his acoustic rendition of “Seasons” brought chills to my body. The entire crowd erupted in cheers when McCready played the opening chords of “River of Deceit,” and rightfully so; this was another song that I probably will never be able to hear live again but am so grateful I was gifted with that opportunity.
My two favorite covers of the night were undoubtedly “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin and “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath – I nearly self-combusted from pure excitement. Last year I dubbed “Achilles Last Stand” a masterpiece, and the fact that I was blessed enough to witness such a masterpiece live by an incredible band was unbelievable. McCready killed it at his daunting task to live up to Jimmy Page’s guitar work in such a guitar-driven anthem. Of course it is impossible to reach the drum skill level of John Bonham, but Matt Cameron did very well in his part of “Achilles Last Stand.” I must have looked like a lunatic during the song. I was pretending to drum alongside Matt Cameron because the drumming in “Achilles Last Stand” encompasses some of the best I’ve ever heard. TOTD ended the second set with “War Pigs,” which was another spiritual experience for me. “War Pigs” is one of my favorite songs and hearing it live was breath-taking and filled me with rage and inspiration to fight the power. Cornell was the perfect person to fill in for Ozzy Osbourne and once again McCready masterfully played his part, as well as, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Matt Cameron. I got so into the song that the person in front of me turned around smiling to see who the psychopath behind them was. After the song was done, he turned around and asked me how old I was; to his amazement, I told him I am 19, and he was in shock. However, it didn’t seem strange that I would know “War Pigs” by heart when I was at a TOTD concert (a band from 25 years ago). Anyway, everyone in the building knew “War Pigs” completely and jammed to the powerhouse, anti-war anthem; it was definitely a top concert moment for me that I will never forget.
Once the show was over, my dad and I went outside and waited by the backstage door along with my other hopeful fans. Unfortunately, a security guard told us that they had already left. Of course we didn’t believe him, so we stayed for about 15 minutes, but there was no sign of them. I knew that we had to go back to the hotel because it was already past midnight, and I didn’t want my dad to be really tired. If it were up to me, I would have stayed all night, but I understood that it was time to go. One day I will meet them, though – mark my words.
Overall, TOTD delivered one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life. I am so lucky to have gone to such an historic show, and to have gone with my dad was another great bonding experience for us. Every time I go a Pearl Jam show, and in this case a TOTD show, people always congratulate my dad on teaching me well. He did, however, but not in 90s rock music – that was all me, and to their surprise, I am the one who does the teaching. Regardless, I will never forget this experience and will look back on these times fondly and with love in my heart.
We are all going to need to look to music and the arts as we enter an incredibly dark time in American history. Music reminds us all of love and unity, which is something we must strive for in the face of the hateful and disgusting rhetoric of our time. Let’s all remember to rock on and love and respect each other. Temple of the Dog certainly reminded me of that.