Temple of the Dog hit Madison Square Garden with a slew of emotions Monday night, as they provided 2 hours of major memories of the early days of grunge, along with reminding us why Andy Wood had so much potential to be a major rock star.
“I’m sure if Andy were alive, he’d be playing the Garden” were some of the earliest comments from singer Chris Cornell, whose vocals were spot on and as strong as they were over 25 years ago when TOTD’s only album came out. Cornell also spoke of how much crazier the world has gotten since those early years. The band powerfully plowed through some of their best songs like “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, “Wooden Jesus”, and “Call Me a Dog”. Reaching their 4th song “Your Savior”, Cornell reminded us that if we want to find religion back in 1990, there were more and more people that wanted to help with that endeavor. He told the lively MSG crowd that they didn’t need anybody to tell them how to find religion, and that those people are just out to take advantage. Ironically enough, outside of MSG after the concert, fans leaving the building witnessed some ‘religious helpers’ outside trying to promote their religion just like Cornell had mentioned. Perhaps it had to do with misunderstanding the name of the band on the Madison Square Garden marquee.
“We only had one album so we’ll be doing a number of other songs,” Cornell informed us as they kicked into gear on some of Mother Love Bone’s best, “Stardog Champion” and “Stargazer”. Both were played well, showing Andy Wood’s melodic strengths, a pleasure to hear how they fit right into some of the best arena grunge MSG has ever heard. Wood’s girlfriend from the time Xana was not mentioned in the intro.
As the setlist drew from much of 70’s classic rock, I felt myself wondering why. While the band seemed to have their chemistry renewed easily, having no trouble pumping out some amazing songs of rock history, I couldn’t see a connection to Andy Wood unless they were songs from his favorite artists. In some ways the mixture of 90’s grunge and 70’s rock felt like rock radio back in 1990 before rock was swept into the alternative world by famous acts like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Music was in a state of flux, not knowing where to turn next after 80’s hair metal, classic rock, and new wave. Albums like Temple of the Dog led us into a rock revolution.
Almost every cover played was from before Wood’s passing, except the ultra rare Cornell 1992 promo EP Poncier song “Missing” and “Seasons” which was on the Singles soundtrack in 1992 also. Before the latter song, Cornell joked of film careers for the Pearl Jam members, referring to the grunge-based movie.
After ending the set with a shortened “Reach Down”, a great singalong for the crowd, and perfect arena rock song wrapped in grunge, Cornell alone came out for the first encore with just an acoustic guitar. It was fine intimate moment hearing Wood’s “Man of Golden Words” which ended with lyrics quoting Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. The fans seemed more comfortable and enthusiastic when some of that song’s famous lyrics were sung, but it overshadowed the Mother Love Bone song.
So why so much classic rock? While I think the intention was for Temple of the Dog to not play any of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden’s material, I also think that they didn’t want to provide a spotlight for any of Andy Wood’s contemporaries in grunge, except for a one fantastic moment when they covered Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” which brought a reminder of the great Layne Staley. During some of the songs, it felt like Andy Wood was speaking to us from beyond. In Chris Cornell’s “Seasons”, he sings “And I’m lost behind the words I’ll never find/I’m left behind as seasons roll on by,” while on Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire”, the message to fans was– “you can jump into the fire but you’ll never be free.”
Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles’ Last Stand” was a stellar performance, with memories of Andy Wood coming back; “With all the fun to have, live the dreams we always had/Oh the songs we’ll sing, when we at last return again.” “The might arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the earth/I know the way”. I half-hoped Andy Wood did know the way back down to earth, and would come up on stage one more time.
I thought of Wood also during: “I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought and I ain’t got the power no more. Knowledge comes with death’s release,” which were lyrics sung from David Bowie’s “Quicksand”. Still, some selections were questionable, like Free’s “I’m a Mover” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. I saw no connection and felt no vibe in relation to Wood on either song, but “War Pigs” was one of the most well received performances of the night.
On “Missing” by Cornell, there was a strong connection between the two great singers- “This may be the last thing you’ll see of me, and it might be your key to rest, I’ve been hard to hold and I’ve been missing.” Cornell had joked earlier in the set that he hadn’t been to MSG for a while just before jumping into “Call Me a Dog.”
In some ways it felt like Andy Wood’s final performance at MSG in the New York spotlight, and it was a pleasure to be a part of an incredible night of music.