It’s the quintessential story of grunge, or at least how we’ve come to know the Seattle music scene of the ’80s and ’90s. It involves friends, music, an isolated region, heroin, grief and rampant commercialism. It’s the story of talent lost too soon before its time, and of the musicians who gathered around the memory of a lost friend to ultimately celebrate something beyond themselves. It was clear, on Sunday at the Paramount Theatre, on the first of two nights in Seattle of their crazily sold-out reunion tour, that Temple of the Dog had achieved in Andrew Wood’s name what he sought so passionately for in his life, with Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun. For helping achieve that, group founder Chris Cornell thanked the crowd and performed with bandmates (and friends of Andy) Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Mike McCready, an epic set devoted to the Stardog Champion and his time on earth.
Opening the show was maybe an unusual choice, at first thought at least, of the new Oakland, CA, project Fantastic Negrito. The sole songwriter, Xavier Dphrepaulezz, seemingly “came out of nowhere” when he won NPR’s inaugural Tiny Desk Concert Contest last year but actually had a major label career in the ’90s until a debilitating car crash caused him to refocus, and reimagine, his creative energies. Fantastic Negrito is fantastic fusion of roots and rock music, and Dphrepaulezz’s debut LP, The Last Days Of Oakland, melds funk, blues, gospel, and soul with tasty metallic riffs. If Living Colour were a little more Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, you’d get the idea, and just as that former NYC band broke into the rock mainstream in the ’80s, Fantastic Negrito is certainly a logical choice to do the same now. But more so, Dphrepaulezz is a flamboyant performer, and in his opening set, he recalled with his comedic asides and onstage gymnastics Andrew Wood’s actual stage presence more than anything else that happened that night. Plus, in the spirit of everything else going on in the world, Dphrepaulezz and his band did what we hoped he’d do: “Take that bullshit and turn it into good shit.”
The anticipation for Temple of the Dog‘s set is hard to describe but easily felt. A platinum-selling album by a Seattle supergroup, who’ve never toured together in this project, on the 25th anniversary of its release? In one of only five cities, and the hometown at that, and in a relatively small venue, the beautiful Paramount Theatre, rather than an outdoor arena, which they could easily have filled? It’s no wonder that tickets were going for absurd prices in the aftermarket and that fans worldwide traveled for this show. As Chris Cornell himself said of the tour, “We wanted to do the one thing we never got to do… play shows and see what it feels like to be the band that we walked away from 25 years ago”, and their set felt like a time capsule, capturing the spirit and music from back then. Among the 10 songs that comprise the group’s self-titled LP, Cornell and the band mixed in 15 covers, many from Mother Love Bone, as you’d expect, but many more also that speak to the inspiration of the group’s members before and beyond. Current Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were then part of Mother Love Bone, and so those songs, even with Cornell’s distinct voice instead of Wood’s, felt authentic and true. The rest of the songs were included for reasons we might only guess, some more obvious picks than others: Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand”, The Cure’s “Fascination Street”, and Syd Barrett’s “Baby Lemonade”. When Cornell introduced one of the first covers of the night, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire”, he warned that some songs “only half of the audience will get”, but they all seemed part of what a practice room with this group might have seemed at the time. Other songs were either part of the group’s tangental history, like Mad Season’s “River of Deceit” and Cornell’s own solo hit “Seasons”, or relevant to more recent events, like David Bowie’s passing with “Holy Holy” or the Cubs winning the World Series with Free’s “I’m a Mover”. It wasn’t hard to imagine any of these songs falling into the embrace of Andrew Wood, were he still with us today.
Obviously, everyone on stage has since aged and found their successes and failures on their own paths, or together with different projects, but for those nearly three hours at the Paramount, we all returned to a different time – not any simpler or any more ideal than now, but one where we could all share an unadulterated love for music itself, the kind of love Andrew Wood himself felt (as Cornell noted, Andy would get more nervous before seeing shows of other people more than before any of his own). Everyone performed with a hunger they may not have felt since, like Mike McCready, who was then a young unknown compared to the rest of the group, who played tonight possibly one of his best sets ever, paralleling Hendrix on their cover of “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” and with particularly jaw-dropping solos on TotD’s “Four Walled World” and “Reach Down”. Cornell may have been the night’s emcee, but it was everyone’s time to shine, as past and present melted into one and we got to spend one more night with Holy Roller Andrew Wood as he watched from above.
Temple of the Dog: