Temple of the Dog Reclaim Grunge Glory in the Name of a Fallen Friend

Temple of the Dog
The Forum

In a year of reunions, it’s safe to say that Temple of the Dog was perhaps the most unexpected of the lot, with apologies to Axl and the gang of course. When the band announced that they’d be embarking on their first tour in celebration of their 25th anniversary, many fans of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and grunge as a whole were stunned. Though they’ve performed the songs sporadically throughout the years, there had never been a formal tour prior to last week. 

Thus, when the grunge supergroup took the stage at the Forum on Monday night, it harkened back to an era where rock was king, and important rock bands dominated top 40 radio. Rock may be on life support, but the microphone-stand twirling Chris Cornell and his bandmates — who so happen to be in a tiny known act named Pearl Jam — hammered through a 25-song set with the ease and confidence one would expect for musicians who survived the rock wars

Though the band initially made passing mentions internally that they should play some shows as far back as PJ20 back in 2011, scheduling finally allowed the titans of rock to join forces for this short tour. 

The original intent of Temple of the Dog was to pay tribute to Mother Love Bone’s fallen singer Andrew Wood. The budding rock star was a larger than life persona in the emerging Seattle scene. When he died of a heroin dose at 24 back in 1990, the void sent massive shockwaves through in the Emerald City scene. Cornell was his former roommate, and Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were his bandmates. The Soundgarden singer penned “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down” as a tribute, of which he played for Ament and Gossard, and thus the Dog — the name is culled from a lyric from Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words” — was born.

Temple of the Dog rolled back the years in more ways than expected. The music that encompassed this record came at a time of when the musicians were at a career and life crossroad. Cornell and Matt Cameron’s Soundgarden was on the verge of exploding, while Ament and Gossard’s lives imploded when Wood died. The cathartic nature of the record and sessions soothed for all, and has become a simple snapshot at a group of friends healing together by making a landmark record, even if the loose collaboration indicates otherwise.

In addition to the songs from their eponymous album, the rock giants mixed covers from Black Sabbath, the Cure, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. Of course, the quintet dipped into the catalog of Mother Love Bone, the band from which Pearl Jam emerged from the ashes. With the release of that album, along with a long overdue revisiting and reissuing of Mother Love Bone’s work, these two relics of the ‘90s are coming back into view with not just fond memories, but provides a further glance into the reexamination of their work.

Cornell was at his most poignant when he spoke about his old friend. “‘Man of Golden Words’ was how he [Andy] felt about the world,” the singer revealed. “He always made your laugh and feel comfortable. His pure love of music and songwriting was all he lived for.”

Eddie Vedder, an integral part of the band’s monster single “Hunger Strike,” wasn’t in the building (though common sense dictates that it’s a lock that he’ll be in attendance in Seattle), but he was referenced on that sing-along version. Otherwise, the band plowed through their 10-song record with comfort and ease, with Mike McCready’s snarling riff of “Reach Down,” and the tidal wave build in “Times of Trouble” — a song that the Pearl Jam faithful know as “Footsteps” — were highlights.

It’s hard to see a so-called supergroup emerge that will ever compare to Temple of the Dog in terms of sonic prowess and pop culture relevance again. The odds of a second Temple of the Dog album seem extremely unlikely at best, and that's fine. Cornell has a successful solo career going and the time seems right for Pearl Jam to get back into the studio, especially since Vedder will have a thing or two to say about a demagogue being elected president. That doesn't even take into account how difficult it would be to tour, but that's for someone who's better at logistics to discuss. At its heart, Temple of the Dog is a tribute to the five musicians who joined forces to pay tribute to the memory of an old friend. Wood probably wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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