Photos by Jimmy Leslie
“I want to acknowledge Mike McCready,” announced frontman Chris Cornell near the end of Temple of the Dog’s first of two sold out nights in San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. “Mike was the wild card in this project. I didn’t know him when Stone (Gossard) first brought him around, but we all quickly realized what an addition he would be because we didn’t know anyone else who could play guitar like that.”
Honoring 25 years since they originally got together in tribute to fallen Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, the Seattle supergroup featuring members of Soundgarden and Peal Jam showed up in fighting shape. The crowd was somewhat dazed and confused about simultaneously celebrating the legalization of recreational marijuana in California while trying to wrap its collective head around the election of Donald Trump.
McCready played lead foil to Gossard’s churning rhythm and Cornell’s howling vocals all night long with bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron completely killing it on the foundational front. It was fascinating to witness because Temple of the Dog only made one record, and never toured to support it until now that there’s a 25th anniversary edition.
Temple of the Dog is dear to me because it’s one of those life soundtrack records, and because it represented the changing of the guitar guard from classic rock to grunge. “Reach Down” encapsulated everything. It had Soundgarden’s drop-tuned riffage, but featured a lead player in McCready who was clearly very familiar with Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page.
McCready and the gang wore their influences proudly on their sleeves in San Francisco as they worked through the heady arrangements of Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” McCready and Gossard had a better handle on the latter, but both were awesome “moments of self indulgence,” as Cornell put it. “Pushing Forward Back,” “Say Hello to Heaven,” and the aforementioned “Reach Down” were highlights among the originals.
It was cool to hear “Seasons”—Cornell’s open-tuned acoustic gem from the Singles soundtrack, but it would have been better if they’d actually played it on acoustics instead of going for it on electric guitars that didn’t quite translate the song’s Zeppelin III vibe as well. It was particularly interesting that Cornell—who is a capable player—pretty much stuck to singing throughout the proceedings while leaving the guitar parts in the capable hands of Gossard and McCready.
I’ll always treasure Temple of the Dog on record, and seeing them live in the flesh still sounding razor sharp after a quarter century was a real treat. GP