Temple of the Dog rocks the Forum back, and then farther back

Temple of the Dog at the Forum (Photo by David Benjamin)
Temple of the Dog at the Forum (Photo by David Benjamin)

The year was 1990, the place Seattle, prior to the advent of the grunge revolution. There was a promising band called Mother Love Bone, fronted by a charismatic and talented young man named Andrew Wood, who tragically succumbed to a drug overdose just as they were about to release their debut album. A one-off project with the moniker Temple of the Dog was quickly formed as a tribute to Wood, combining Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (Wood’s onetime roommate) and Matt Cameron with Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (who had been in Mother Love Bone) and Mike McCready.

Released in 1991, the album didn’t gain traction and was quickly ignored despite positive reviews. Later that year Nirvana broke, followed in quick succession by the mainstream success of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. It wasn’t until 1992 that someone at A&M thought to revisit the album, releasing the beautifully somber “Hunger Strike” as a single and video, which boosted sales to platinum status. Other than the occasional one-off live collaboration at a Pearl Jam or Soundgarden show, most of the songs never saw a live stage until this fall, when the band decided to honor the 25th anniversary of the album with a tour.

It was in this celebratory mood band that took the stage at the Forum on Tuesday night. Cornell was in his usual state of vox, perhaps the finest pure rock yarler of his generation.”Pushin’ Forward Back” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” featured his majestic talents. Gossard and McCready have been trading riffs in Pearl Jam for 25 years, and the rhythm section of Ament and Cameron is unspeakably tight. While playing the entire album, the band also breathed fire into the Mother Love Bone catalog, with the glam-tastic “Stardog Champion,” along with “Stargazer,” “Bone China,” and “Holy Roller” making the set list.

Amid a spartan stage, minus the normal trappings of massive big screens, the show had the feel of being an outtake of “Almost Famous” These onetime grunge kids have matured into stately classic rockers. Given the body count associated with Seattle scene, this is no minor feat. This was a supergroup of ’90s lineage, and yet the mood felt distinctly 1974. Perhaps it was their choice of covers, as they dipped their toes into pools of influence that were rather broad and vintage.

Seeing as they only had 55 minutes of recorded material as a band, much of the show ascended into a jam session of influences and lost loves. Led Zeppelin’s swervy “Achilles Last Stand,” David Bowie’s “Holy Holy,” Harry Nillson’s prophetic “Jump into the Fire” and Syd Barrett’s “Baby Lemonade” received loving grace. Free’s “I’m a Mover” showcased their ’70s swagger. Their cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was a bang on interpretation, while their thumping deconstruction of the Cure’s “Fascination Street” was an odd and endearing choice.

But of all the covers, the highlight was Mad Season’s gorgeous “River of Deceit”, recalling Layne Staley, another iconic Seattle figure who fell to the spiders in his veins. Cornell did a fantastic job honoring Staley’s vocal style without clumsily aping it.

Purposely, the vast catalogs of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were ignored and hardly missed. That statement alone speaks to the quality of the material they were able to cobble together. It remains to be seen if a larger tour is in the works — this eight-show swing winds up Sunday and Monday in Seattle — but given the band’s obvious enjoyment in playing the material in front of an audience equally enraptured by it, one could reasonably see more shows in the future. I’m sure Eddie Vedder won’t mind the extra time off to savor the Cubs’ championship.

Photos by David Benjamin