One Year Later, Temple of the Dog Live at Madison Square Garden

Exactly one-year ago today, I saw Temple of the Dog perform for the very first time and it is an everlasting memory that still brings me great joy yet I feel such a burden of sorrow since this inevitably turned into the last opportunity that I would ever have to see Chris Cornell grace the microphone.

“I was pushin’, pushin’, pushin’ forward back,” these lyrics have defined my sense of inner perseverance since 2003. To tell my full story, I will harken back to discovering Audioslave’s “Cochise” in late 2002 since that track heavily inspired my conquest to discover artists with a like-minded ability to combine relentless grooves, riffs, harmonies, anger, sorrow, and honesty all within a singular song and album.

During the fall of 2003, I was listening to Audioslave’s self-titled debut and Soundgarden’s Superunknown pretty frequently and falling in love with the catalogs of Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. I had spoken to my aunt over the phone and told her about the kind of music that I had been listening to since these were some of her favorite artists as well, and asked if she could bring over any CD’s for me to check out. What became such a critical and influential moment in my life, she brought over three albums – Pearl Jam – Vs., Pantera – Far Beyond Driven, and Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog. From the very first listen, these three records have defined my musical tastes and I would rank the experiences of hearing each opening track – “Go,” “Strength Beyond Strength,” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” as some of the most powerful and emotional moments of my life.

Before I even listened to Temple of the Dog, I had asked my aunt about who they were and she told me the story of Andrew Wood and how Temple of the Dog featured members from both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Right off the bat, the concept of honoring a best friend and befallen bandmate by writing such timeless masterpieces resonated at the deepest levels. And the thought of listening to songs composed by the members of both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam: I grew up a comic book reader and this concept even eclipsed the idea of Batman and Spider-Man working together.

In my opinion, Temple of the Dog’s self-titled LP is the greatest hard rock record of the last thirty-years and the most impressive display of songwriting that I have ever heard. Considering the emotional weight behind the subject manner, Chris Cornell, Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Jeff Ament honored Andrew Wood’s legacy in the most commendable way possible, especially for someone as passionate about songwriting and performing as Andrew Wood. Truth be told, I was born exactly ten-days after Andy’s passing so I was not around to discover Mother Love Bone but think about how his legacy has influenced and defined the modern rock landscape over the last twenty-five years. In terms of personal growth and maturity, each musician from Temple of the Dog made such huge strides in their songwriting by channeling their grief into art and would proceed to create albums that became historic cultural landmarks such as Ten and Badmotorfinger.

There was nobody else that I would have seen this show with other than my best friend Nick Porcaro: he was someone who understood and greatly appreciated the music of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog like I did while we were growing up. We had seen Soundgarden at the Prudential Center after they reunited and met Chris Cornell during an in-store signing at Vintage Vinyl: two incredible memories and stories for a different time. We eventually secured tickets for the show at Madison Square Garden and my excitement level was off the roof as the date approached: this was my Led Zeppelin and the weight of this reunion held the same emotional gravitas as if Led Zeppelin reunited for a performance at Madison Square Garden.

When the day finally arrived, I hopped aboard a train in Northern New Jersey, listened to Mother Love Bone’s Apple, and traveled towards Penn Station for what ultimately became one of the most memorable nights of my life. I wore my Pearl Jam shirt and Soundgarden hoodie and met up with Nick right outside of the Garden. We were like two kids on Christmas morning and sat on the right side of the venue in the upper bowl.

Check out Anthony Toto’s emotional tribute to Chris Cornell from earlier this year.

One amazing visual component about this night, much like Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden, Temple of the Dog performed on a flat stage without much of a backdrop and the entire arena was filled to maximum capacity. The group was surrounded by “louder than love” volumes of admiration from every possible direction within the arena. I have seen hundreds of shows and the atmosphere that night was almost indescribable: it felt like the audience was witnessing something new and established all within the same show.

The band played with such an elite level of determination and musicianship yet the happiness and enjoyment in their demeanor resembled a band playing at Madison Square Garden for the very first time and they have all experienced the highest levels of musical success. Obviously, the chemistry between Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron was one-of-a-kind and Cameron also shared nearly twenty plus years worth of chemistry with Ament, Gossard, and McCready. This felt like a band with a catalog of material equal to both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam: it was so effortless for all five members to instinctively play in-unison and plenty of us in the crowd walked away wishing they had recorded more music over the years. This wasn’t a side project and most definitely wasn’t a cash grab, this was a band in the truest sense.

The group walked out to Mother Love Bone’s piano instrumental “Man of Golden Words.” As Stone Gossard and Mike McCready played the opening riffs to “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” the iconic chord progression ignited the most chilling roar from the crowd. Chris Cornell sounded fantastic and like a true professional, adapted the material to suit his range. Think along the lines of Robert Plant during Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day reunion. Also, most vocalists would lower the keys of their material as they approached their fifties and Cornell sang in the same tunings throughout his career, which is beyond commendable. And he definitely unleashed that iconic upper register throughout the show but wisely chose to conserve himself at various points since the band played for nearly three-hours without a break whatsoever. Again, nearly three hours of Temple of the Dog!

The band did not play the album in consecutive order and I definitely loved how they spaced out their material over the course of the show. “Call Me A Dog,” was haunting since the dynamics of that song, the sentimental peaks and valleys in the chorus, were orchestrated to perfection. The lights on stage were very dim, which created an Unplugged and Chris Cornell – Songbook aura of intimacy. I felt like I was watching Temple of the Dog perform at the Starland Ballroom, a 2,000 capacity venue as opposed to the 20,000 plus capacity at the World’s Most Famous Arena. Hearing Mike McCready’s guitar lead compliment Chris as he yelled, “You drag me along,” the musical dexterity and depth to that composition was stunning in a live setting.

It was such a unique treat for die-hard fans of the Seattle scene like myself to witness the members themselves talk about their musical upbringing on-stage. As I mentioned earlier, Andrew Wood was so influential and never gets enough credit for the impact he had on his Mother Love Bone bandmates and those around Seattle who watched him perform. Up until that point, Andrew had been gone for over twenty-six years and even if none of us in the crowd personally knew him, we truly felt his presence in the room and learned so much more about him. He was there in spirit with his bandmates on-stage, especially as they performed fierce renditions of Mother Love Bone songs like “Holy Roller,” “Stardog Champion,” and “Stargazer.”

Timeless classics that haven’t been revisited by the songwriters themselves in years. In particular, Jeff Ament was pouring his heart and soul into these tracks, as well as every song, and it felt like it was so cathartic for him to be a member of Mother Love Bone once again. That was my favorite aspect of the show: the ability to keep someone’s legacy alive through music. The band even had a cutout/statue of Andy with them on stage and I remember a light being reflected towards him throughout the show. Chris mentioned how Andy would dream about playing Madison Square Garden and his best friends were able to make his dream come true in some type of capacity.

After this show ended, I walked away feeling so optimistic about each member’s future endeavors as songwriters and bandmates whether it would be Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, or solo projects. None of us could have predicted what would transpire with Chris Cornell’s passing, and one of the reasons why it hurt the most was seeing how passionate and full-of-life he was while talking about his friendship with Andy. Throughout that night, he provided us with such great examples of how to cope with death, the heartbreak of losing a loved one, and how to forge ahead with context and clarity. He gave the most beautiful tribute that he could have possibly given to Andy and six-months later, he was gone. Later in the night, the band even revisited Mike McCready’s work in Mad Seasons, which was fronted by Layne Staley and performed “River of Deceit.” It is absolutely gut wrenching to contemplate how death has been so synonymous with Seattle’s most iconic musicians. Chris summoned the vibrato and grit of Staley’s vocals as he sang, “Down, oh down,” and once again, it felt like Layne Staley was on-stage giving his approval.

The band covered multiple songs throughout the show – personal favorites of Andy’s from bands like The Cure. One of my favorite moments of the night: since each member grew up absorbing the musical dynamics of Led Zeppelin, they covered their iconic masterpiece “Achilles Last Stand.” Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s chemistry was on full-display right here, their approach to Jimmy Page’s compositions and the way they traded riffs off one another echoed across the room as if we witnessed the sequel to The Song Remains The Same.

I am paraphrasing but when the song concluded, Chris was so ecstatic and said, “I can’t believe we just played Achilles Last Stand at Madison Square Garden.” The band also covered Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” which was a full-fledged drum clinic as Matt Cameron just unleashed the nastiest drum fills and his impeccable timing was the driving force in why this band sounded so “Seasoned” with only a few shows under their belt. I mentioned “Seasons” for a reason since it is Chris Cornell’s signature solo track and the band added a new flavor to this classic with distorted riff-rattling musical dynamics reminiscent of Ten, which made it so much heavier and it was already one of the heaviest tracks in terms of its lyrical depth and vocal delivery.

Outside of the covers and tributes, the highlights of this show occurred when Temple of the Dog performed all ten-tracks from their illustrious masterpiece. “Reach Down” was extremely moving, especially since Chris was so engaged with the audience when he sang, “And pick the crowd up.” The slow-tempoed grooves and hanging notes reverberating from the guitar riffs were so intense: everyone in this band was completely in the zone so the audience witnessed each musician play at their highest caliber. Chris tapped into the depths of his lyrics and unleashed the fiercest screams, which proved he could still wail away at the same elite level like he did in 1990. “Hunger Strike,” ignited the brightest joy across the room, which was so enthralling as Gossard and McCready played the iconic opening riff.

The crowd served as the perfect substitute for Eddie Vedder and it was such a unique visual experience to see the group incorporate 20,000 voices into their musical fold: we were all members of Temple of the Dog during that performance. On the opposite end, the crowd was silent in the most respectful manner during “Four Walled World,” as everyone was focused on absorbing the hollowness of Cornell’s vocals. In a lower register, Cornell concluded the song by screaming “In my four walled world,” and McCready’s guitar bends provided such a thrilling accentuation for the vocal melody to follow.

Rightfully so, the band closed the show with “All Night Thing,” and this song is packed with so much heart and soul, especially in the chorus. It’s such an uplifting melody that thematically demonstrates a group of individuals healing from a traumatic experience, in terms of its sequential order on the record. The band started off this show by confronting the wounds of their loss and ended off the show by embracing their longevity, brotherhood, and ability to grow as musicians for nearly thirty-years. Much like the record itself, this band’s decision to tour across the country was a decision that was from the heart and pure in every sense. The iconic rooftop of the Garden felt like a cathedral for Seattle’s greatest songwriter.

This was the most impressive, influential, and important musical experience of my life and these memories will stay with me until my last breath. I truly never thought I would EVER have the opportunity to witness this band tour under the moniker “Temple of the Dog.” I owe so much to this record for inspiring me through both the best and worst times. As I conclude my story, I am still heavily grieving the loss of Chris Cornell and his passing has symbolized what has been a very difficult year for myself and many others as well. Today is November 7th and it is pouring outside, which feels very fitting as I tried my best to pay my respects to such an iconic voice and my biggest musical influence from Seattle. It is my hope that friends, family, and fans will continue to honor his legacy with the same level of heart and care that he demonstrated back in 1990 when he wrote this record in memory of Andy Wood.

As a collective whole, I feel the best way to keep his art alive is to write songs that tap into the brightest and darkest depths of our emotions and to give others an outlet to find comfort and solace like so many of us did by listening to his catalog. If we could all somehow draw influence and add our own flavor to something Temple of the Dog esque, whether it’s a performance, song, album, or painting, than I feel we are keeping his legacy alive and paying our deepest respects to the most brilliant and talented vocalist, frontman, and songwriter of our generation. From here on forward, it’s our time to reach down and pick up the crowd up. Thank you Chris Cornell for everything you have given us.

 

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