One-Night Thing: Temple of the Dog Live, 1990

by Jessica Letkemann on November 12, 2010

The latest in our series of articles and specials celebrating Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary is a look back at Temple of the Dog’s first and only full show, which took place exactly 20 years ago tomorrow (Nov. 13).

The Rocket, 1990

The Rocket, 1990

Listed only as “special guests” in the local music paper, The Rocket, and not planned much in advance, the live debut of the never-before-heard-of band calling itself “Temple of the Dog” drew a full crowd to the tiny Off Ramp in Seattle that unassuming Tuesday night in November.

Long before Facebook or Twitter, good old fashioned word-of-mouth spread that two of the hugest local bands – half of the former Mother Love Bone and half of the mighty Soundgarden – had joined forces and would be playing a club show. It’s clear from the surviving video that fans and friends came out in full force to witness the collaboration. A few folks in attendance may have even caught wind of the fact that just three weeks before this, those Mother Love Bone guys, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, had debuted their new band Mookie Blaylock (later Pearl Jam) with a guitarist from the other side of town named Mike McCready and a powerful new singer from San Diego named Eddie Vedder on that very same stage with the very same headliners, Inspector Luv (later known as Green Apple Quick Step).

Every Pearl Jam fan knows, of course, that Temple of the Dog was a key part of the story of Pearl Jam’s formation in 1990. Cornell had been inspired to salve his grief over the March 1990 death of close friend Andy Wood, Mother Love Bone’s singer, by writing a pair of songs in tribute. That summer, as the band that would become Pearl Jam came together, Gossard, Ament, and McCready were also working with Cornell and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to augment Cornell’s tunes into a whole album.

Eddie had literally stumbled into a part in the Temple project when his first trip to Seattle that October coincided with Temple rehearsal, but one of the most noticeable things about Temple’s inaugural show on Nov. 13, 1990 is Eddie’s absence. While he was back in San Diego packing his life into the back of his truck to move himself up to Seattle to be Mookie Blaylock/Pearl Jam’s singer, Cornell was onstage at the Off-Ramp dueting with himself on the opening number of Temple’s set, “Hunger Strike.”

Ironically, watching the video, it seems like a laid-back crowd, grooving along to the tunes, but as Chris Cornell said in the interview with me that I included in TwoFeetThick.com’s recent special mini-book, Music For Rhinos – 1990: The Making of Pearl Jam, there were two huge factions of Seattle music fans that clashed violently at the show, and even sent Pearl Jam’s future tour manager Eric Johnson to the hospital.

“Nobody was used to going to see a band play that many mellow songs in a row,” Cornell remembered. “There was a lot of people who were really into it but nobody had even heard the songs before. So it was really strange, it was almost like a debut show and a swan song at the same time.  Some violence ensued where one of our good friends who’s worked for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden over the years got hit in the face with a bottle and had to go to the emergency room.  That overshadowed everything else. It was like the ‘Seattle Altamont‘. The suburban metal fans were starting to come out of their caves and don their ’73 Aerosmith T-shirts to see bands [like Temple] because we had elements of ’70s hard rock and there was some growing pains from that. It wasn’t a seamless transition from this post-punk urban scene into starting to draw the leftover late-’70s metal fans. Seattle was always kind of a hard-rock guitar town. It’s kind of funny, kids who go to college seem to be dumber and handle themselves worse than kids who wash dishes at a restaurant downtown and read a lot of books.”

Despite the rowdiness that would mar the proceedings, the gig itself shows a band comfortable with its prowess and with being onstage — even though this group of musicians had never played a show together before. Cornell throws around breezy banter, Jeff headbangs, McCready shreds on the part of the stage that would become known as “Stone’s side,” Stone and his ponytail rock the Gibson on what would become “Mike’s side.” Cameron (who of course later becomes Pearl Jam‘s drummer) anchors the back ably like a blacksmith pounding his anvils.

Cornell opts not to bring out the banjo for the second song, “Wooden Jesus,” but McCready, who few in the audience had ever heard of, wins everyone over with the first of his stunning solos.

Afterward, Cornell gives a long explanation of why he’s onstage with this different group of guys and gives some love to McCready’s playing. “This little thing we’re doing was originally meant to be a kind of tribute to our buddy Andy Wood. What it ended up being was fun, but this next song in particular was written about him [and] for him..,” he says of next tune “Say Hello To Heaven.” While Stone is off fixing a broken string, Cornell continues pointing out McCready’s blousy Stevie Ray Vaughn-looking-shirt, unbuttoned so most of his chest shows. “This is the favorite Mike McCready. He’s the  crowd-pleaser tonight. And because he loves to please the audience, he wore his crowd-pleasing shirt that will not be on the entire set. I wish I had the authority to give it away, but I don’t,” Cornell jokes, and catcalls from the audience ensue.

While Jeff and Mike are off on the right of the stage behind twin blurs of hair, Cornell is full of self-aware humor. “We need at least 2 guitars, we prefer three but…” he quips of the double-guitar band crammed on the teeny stage. “And we could have rocked two drummers,” he says, probably somewhat seriously as Mookie Blaylock/Pearl Jam’s drummer Dave Krusen was likely in the house that night.

But if people were impressed by McCready after the three songs they’d just heard, the next one, with his five-minute-plus solo, would amaze even more than Cornell stage diving into the crowd during it. After McCready’s epic turn is over, Cornell is suddenly in the back by the drum kit sharing vocals and the mic with Cameron.

Next it’s Stone’s turn for a little love from Cornell, as “Call Me A Dog” and then “Times Of Trouble,” whose music was written by Stone (and which was also already Pearl Jam’s “Footsteps”) came up next on the set list. Throwing in an inside-joke, Cornell says, “Stone Gossard, master of the pan flute and guitar, songwriter extraordinaire.” And then he makes a little joke about the super-long “Reach Down,” with its quiet-loud-quiet structure, saying, “This is just a quiet part of that song. We’re just gonna go right back into it.”

No one except his regular bandmate Matt Cameron escapes Cornell’s attention on this night. “Have you noticed Mr. Ament has changed his bass for every song so far?,” he says, ribbing Jeff about acting a lil bit like a rock star. “He’s just practicing, this is just a drill.” But no one on that stage really knew just how famous Jeff Ament and his band would become in the next two years.

Listen close after “Pushin’” and you’ll hear that crowd of locals chanting “Stoney! Stoney! Stoney!” before Cornell swoops back in for more humor about McCready’s penchant for going topless and Jeff’s penchant for changing instruments. “We’re switching the vocals off, we’re switching bass guitars, [and] Mike is switching to a non-shirt look,” Cornell jokes as Mike strips it off. “I’ve never noticed this before but Mike has an outie.”

And then the brief concert comes to a close with Cornell offering a heart-felt, “It was my pleasure” and then the quintet melting faces one more time with “Four-Walled World.”

Now of course, the various members on stage that night, and certainly also Eddie, would touch upon the Temple magic live in later years, but never as a full set… as far as we know. Pearl Jam fans are aware that Cornell, Vedder, Ament, Gossard, McCready and Cameron did Temple mini-sets on Aug. 3, 1991, Oct. 3 and Oct. 6, 1991 and at the end of Lollapalooza on Sept. 13, 1992, and very memorably at Pearl Jam’s Santa Barbara show on Oct. 28, 2003.

But there is a 20-year-old Temple of the Dog show mystery still to solve. The ad for the Seattle club OK Hotel in the January 1991 issue of the Rocket very curiously includes a Jan. 12, 1991 listing for Temple of the Dogs (sic) with LoveCo (an informal band that at various times included Jeff, Mike, and Shawn Smith!) and Bam Bam. When we talked with Stone Gossard for TwoFeetThick.com’s previously mentioned PJ 20th birthday mini-book “Music For Rhinos: 1990  – The Making of Pearl Jam,” Stone didn’t remember playing this show and we have this listed in the Concert Chronology as canceled but would love further details. Do you have any evidence of it actually happening or why it might have been cancelled? We’d love to hear from you.

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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