SAN FRANCISCO — Temple of the Dog’s self-titled debut, their lone album, was released 25 years ago. It is as old now as Pet Sounds, Revolver and Blonde On Blonde were when it debuted in 1991. That is old enough to qualify as classic rock, as the age and alcohol-fueled exuberance of some members of the crowd at Bill Graham Civic Center on Saturday, the first of the supergroup’s two sold-out shows, could attest.
That should make it strange that this eight-show, five-city tour is Temple of the Dog’s first. But there are two reasons it makes sense: First, the album was recorded by friends and bandmates of the late Andrew Wood in his honor and was never intended to go beyond that. Second, the band members spent the remainder of the ’90s busy with their other projects: Soundgarden (lead singer Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron) and Pearl Jam (guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament and Cameron).
As you would expect from that pedigree, the show was well worth the wait. Bookended by the album’s opening track “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and closing track “All Night Thing” as a second encore, it included all 54 minutes and change of the band’s catalog. Cornell had the crowd cover then-future Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder’s part in the band’s best-known single “Hunger Strike,” which seems risky for the biggest hit but worked well.
Interspersed with Temple of the Dog’s own songs were tracks from Andrew Wood’s old band, Mother Love Bone. Cornell expressed that the goal of the supergroup (a term he didn’t use one during the show) was to bring Wood’s music to the world. If anyone in the crowd was unfamiliar with his work, their performance certainly fixed that. The Mother Love Bone songs were played with an intensity befitting a tribute to a friend, and the songs themselves showed why Wood’s fingerprints are on so much of the Seattle music scene of the time.
Especially moving was Cornell alone with an acoustic guitar performing “Man of Golden Words,” the Mother Love Bone track from which Temple of the Dog got its name. Cornell introduced the song as the pinnacle of Wood’s songwriting ability and a hint of what might have been, and it’s hard to argue with either of those declarations.
The rest of the 23-song set was composed of covers from artists as diverse as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. And you may not know you want to hear Chris Cornell sing “War Pigs,” but you do. You very much want to hear that.
Notably missing for fans of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were, well, any songs by Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. While some grumbled about that on the way out, the omission is understandable. The band, its album and this show were tributes to Wood, his legacy and his contribution on the then-developing grunge scene. Turning it into a greatest hits showcase for the band’s members would have been inappropriate and sucked some of the emotion out of the concert.
The opening act was provided by Oakland’s own Fantastic Negrito. Those in the Bay Area should be familiar with his work—if not, get thee to Spotify to listen to Last Days of Oakland–but even those who are need to find our where he’s going next and see him perform again as soon as possible. With each performance, Xavier Dphrepaulezz gets stronger and stronger. Negrito has been opening for Cornell all year, and joked that because of this, he now calls the grunge singer Christmas Cornell. Seamlessly shifting from punk rock to funk to a powerful, soulful rendition of “In the Pines,” his opening set held up even when followed by a supergroup whose members have combined to sell around 100 million albums.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.