Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden

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Temple of the Dog at Madison Square Garden

Temple of the Dog just finished its first encore when my new friend and seat neighbor, Jimmy, leaned over to tell me something. “None of us were supposed to be here,” he said somberly, his veracity tempering my exuberance for witnessing a band I never thought I’d ever see live.

It’s true. Temple of the Dog’s only album stemmed from tragedy. The 1991 self-titled debut only happened because 24-year-old Andrew Wood—lead singer of the grunge band Mother Love Bone—overdosed on heroin in March 1990. As a result, Chris Cornell (Wood’s former roommate) and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, as well as Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam (and formerly of Mother Love Bone) banded together to honor their late friend through music, the best way they knew how.


The ten tracks on Temple of the Dog stand the test of time as a masterful, tragic forbearer to grunge, even 25 years later. The album saw a deluxe reissue on vinyl, CD and digital in September, with alternate mixes, demos and studio outtakes. But considering the band itself barely ever played these songs outside of laying them to tape, the thought of seeing Temple of the Dog live—with its band members forced to relearn their own music 25 years after they wrote it—seemed absurd.

Both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden have gone on to become two of the three biggest names from the legacy of ‘90s grunge/rock, alongside Nirvana. Cornell has even enjoyed a solo career and a brief rock resurgence as part of Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine. Temple of the Dog never needed to be anything more than the underground tribute record it was always intended to be.

That’s why a sold-out crowd—a sold out seven-date tour, in fact— for Temple of the Dog is, by all rational assessments of musical criticism, ridiculous. In a more perfect world, Andrew Wood should still be alive. He should have been leading Mother Love Bone in arena tours. And Cornell, for his part, shouldn’t have had to write the album’s opening track, “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” He shouldn’t have had to, “write these words down for you / with the pages of phrases of all the things we’ll never do.”


Yet, roughly 18,000 people—including Jimmy and me—who shouldn’t have been there, piled into Madison Square Garden’s hallowed halls in disbelief. We stood there stunned for the more-than-two-hour, 24-song set, because for all of the world’s attempts at thwarting our dreams and derailing our plans, life took us to there.

We watched a shaggy-haired, Louder Than Love-era Cornell belt out every song by Temple and a few choice cuts by Mother Love Bone. We ogled and cheered as they played covers by Mad Season (“River of Deceit”), Free (“I’m a Mover”), Led Zeppelin (“Achilles Last Stand”), David Bowie (“Quicksand”) and Black Sabbath (“War Pigs”). We swayed and head-banged as Mike McCready nailed every single note in solos to “Your Savior” and the 11-minute-long “Reach Down,” while nearly throwing himself off the stage during “Pushin’ Forward Back.” We sang Eddie Vedder’s part to “Hunger Strike,” the only charting single on the record, without any amplification—taking the lower register growls to Cornell’s unyielding howls.

Still, joy and grief hung in equal measure in The Garden like the Rangers and Knicks pennants pinned to the upper decks. The excitement, of course, came from this unlikely regrouping and the inconceivable, illogical experience of witnessing a band that was never supposed to be “a thing.” Yet, the shadow of death felt heavy, as Wood’s spirit permeated each tribute song from Temple of the Dog and each roaring rock-out of friends covering old favorites together. Cornell invoked Wood regularly; after the band’s welcoming gratitude, the cheers for Wood were as loud as their own introduction. Cornell even remarked, “If he hadn’t died at 24, he would have played this stage many times.”


Joy proved undying at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, though. Fans witnessed history. We saw the actualization of decades of hurt and grief and isolation and regret manifested in ten songs that we thought would surely never leave the CD player. And the band, with its five wildly successful musicians, witnessed a sold out crowd singing along to an album they wrote for a friend who died too young. They continued to share Wood’s music and legacy to those who cared enough to honor it.

As the band closed its second encore with the last track on Temple of the Dog, the remaining devotees stayed as witness to the acoustic finale. Cornell wailed, “She motioned to me that she wanted to leave.” But really, no one did. No one would have really minded if it was an “All Night Thing.”