Santa Barbara 2003 Review

by Jessica Letkemann on November 5, 2003


Santa Barbara photography by Dominic DiSaia

Temple at last

Santa Barbara, CA – There are just some things in life that only happen when you least expect them. Things like the full on Temple of the Dog reunion that finally came together on a random Tuesday night in late October in a random SoCal town without even the faintest whisper of a rumour preceding it. If ever there was a perennial fantasy/scuttlebut/wish in the world of PJ fandom, it was the idea of Chris Cornell climbing p on stage with Pearl Jam and recreating the magic of that 1991 one-off album that held ten stellar songs as well as the seeds of so many vital, amazing aspects of PJ itself. Temple of the Dog, remember, came together before Stone and Jeff had even ever HEARD of some San Diegan named Eddie. Temple rehearsals (thirteen years ago to the month before the Santa Barbara show) dovetailed with EV’s trip north to audition for Mookie Blaylock, and Ed’s vocal contributions to Cornell’s “Hunger Strike” rang out into that modest basement rehearsal space the same week he first sang “Alive.” Temple, in short, is Pearl Jam history of the highest order, right up there next to the Mamasan tape and the mythical first sessions in Seattle.

…and picking the crowd up

The rumors of Temple’s ressurrection have come up almost as regularly as the tides. With Soundgarden and Pearl Jam sharing some bills in the old days, it did happen twice. First at ’91 gig in L.A. ,and last during one of the last gigs of Lollapalooza ’92 (also in LA), arguably before it was much of a big deal. Let Cornell get within several hundred miles of a Pearl Jam show since, however, and the fervent rumours spring up. Soundgarden breaking up? Temple! Matt Cameron joining PJ in early ’98? Temple for sure! Cornell with a solo album? Maybe he’ll open for Pearl Jam, and then, of course, Temple! Never once was it true. If you’ve been paying attention to PJ for any length of time, you already know that they’re among the least predictable humans on the planet.

Ament, feelin’ It!!

And so it was that a thicket of folks — some diehards from around the country who’d braved the wildfires for a last taste of PJ in ’03, some L.A. area fans who figured the drive up was a breeze — were milling around the tiny Santa Barbara Bowl parking lot, the front gates, and the box office around 5pm as the familiar arpeggios of “Hunger Strike” wafted down the hill from the hidden stage. No one raised an eyebrow, venues have blasted the Temple record over the PA pre-show for years. When the singing started, some remained incredulous, but a few faces suspected. As the song went into it’s second verse, the verse where Ed’s baritone joins Chris’ tenor, shock began to register on almost every face. The voices were no longer following the record, they were hitting improv’d notes, they sounded different, warm, live. Chris Cornell was in the building. A soundcheck of “Reach Down” followed, and by then my heart was pounding so hard I could scarcely believe I was standing there hearing it. And wow, it sounded so good, McCready channelling the youthful abandon of his first recorded guitar solo, that five minute exegis back in ’90 that he rocked so hard the studio monitor headphones had flown off his head.

Ed the Plumber

As it all happened, the Temple reunion came to be the blinding highlight in a set studded with other very special moments. First there was the acoustic portion of the set, which is still a treat even though acousic PJ sets are not as rare as they once were. Beck’s guitarist Lyle Workman lent some licks to a some tunes, also a treat. But then Ed announced that Jack Irons was joining them for a couple just before sliding into his signature “In My Tree.” That was a move that blindsided everyone in attendance. Though Jack played with PJ back in June, his presence was still a major rarity. Cornell, of course, was the guest that set the crowd to howling approval, delerium. After two gorgeous solo tunes, blond Ed came back out and stood abreast towering, but still nervous Chris, both grinning like long-lost brothers, the strains of “Hunger Strike” began. That’s when you stand there in this tiny, beautiful open-air amphitheater with the lights from houses just yards away from the seats twinking in the not-so-far distance, and begin to grasp that you are actually watching music history taking place.

It’s a strange feeling, a fever dream. You feel like you’re hallucinating, like you’re not quite there but at the same time it’s oddly visceral. One part of you is in the moment, rocking, and another part of you is outside of the scene watching it all go down, like it’s written down in a book, or flickering on a screen.

So they wanna be rock-n-roll stars?

The show — which almost didn’t feel like a PJ show at all between the guests, the acoustic set, and the new songs — slipped by in a blink. Ten minutes of “Reach Down,” (and man did they ever “pick the crowd up”), Mike soloing like the entire world consisted of just himself, his guitar and his amp turned to eleven. More encores, like large waves, broke across the now strangely subdued 4,500 onlookers, including the Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Fruciante with PJ on an all Ramones encore, and EV and Jack Johnson duetting on a “Better Man” tag of the Ramones’ “I Want to Be Your Boyfriend,” their falsettos blending into supersweet harmonies. And then the evening’s final moment of out-of-body history, “Rock and Roll Star” with all of the evening’s guests, Cornell in tandem front-and-center with Vedder, Fruciante over by McCready, Workman and Gossard, and then an image that will always remain just as indelibly etched in my mind as Ed and Chris duetting: Jack Irons — the ex-Chili Pepper who brought Ed to Stone and Jeff who finally assumed the PJ drumseat in ’94, hammering the same kit as Matt Cameron — the master ex-Soundgarden drummer who’d made Stone’s pre-Mookie demos possible, who assumed the PJ drumseat in ’98 when Jack bowed out. It was this sort of perfect symmetry. This microcosm of a miraculous band and their miraculous history. Pearl Jam showing roots, all entertwined, and somehow, all onstage at the same time.


SPECIAL THANKS and all photography © 2003, Dominic DiSaia, www.DominicDiSaia.com.

Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

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