Back in the day when tribes of flannel roamed the earth, and men with flowing locks and dirty jeans played shrieking guitars, their songs broadcast on things called radio stations, there was a band, a clan made up of a single-named alpha, two brothers and a bassplayer, and for a short while, they prevailed.
They were I Mother Earth, a product of the 90s as much as the rest of ‘em, a band that graduated Suma Cum Hard Rock in the same class as Toronto’s other 90s success story, Our Lady Peace. They both shared similar musical DNA (big crunchy rock, assured lead singers with large voices, compelling live sets, big-label marketability within barren Canadia), and they shared stages as well.
I saw IME for the first time on September 17, 1993 at Lee’s Palace, circa their first album. On March 8, 1996, I Mother Earth debuted its album Scenery and Fish at an EMI industry showcase (remember those? No?). Between those three years, we ran in the same circles –bumping into each other at gigs, EdgeFest, and at handfuls of Much Music Video Awards, where me and the backend (drummer and bassist) would drink, share a laugh, hang out.
So, who were IME? Raven-haired guitarist/songwriter Jagori Tanna and his flame-haired lyricist brother Christian powered the battery, even if all eyes live were on singer Edwin, a chiseled, barrel-chested, guy with a huge voice and wild confidence. Original bassist Bruce Gordon (then later Brian Byrne) kept up the thrum, while Daniel Mansilla, the band’s live percussionist, bongo’d their Mediterranean vibe. Their debut album Dig was big, then Scenery and Fish (and its lead-off single “One More Astronaut”) was big. You couldn’t move for big music back then. And – gather in closer, kids, I’m going to drop some crazy ideas – bands’ frontmen were actually charismatic. So I became a fan.
Then, almost exactly at the end of the Scenery and Fish tours, Edwin quit, became a bartender or something. People spoke in excited tones: oh I was at a party and Edwin was there. “Musical differences” were cited. He performed solo for a bit. But that was it. He quit.
But that was fine, because by then so I had I. I going small, not big. Luna, Sebadoh, Spiritualized, Pavement. I’d decided to dedicate my life to the bands on the mixed tape my university newspaper music editor had made just for me.
Things were never the same.
Twenty years on from the album where it had all crumbled, I Mother Earth were, weirdly, back in front of me with, even weirdlier, Edwin at the helm. One night before joining grunge-era buddies Our Lady Peace on an arena co-tour celebrating S&F’s anniversary, I Mother Earth were test-running their reunion in the smaller Commodore Ballroom.
Vancouver was flooding with rain and I was flooding with memories. Back to when Toronto station was CFNY, not “The Edge” Canada’s boyfriend George Stroumboulopoulus was a green, metal DJ on it, to when I drank Molson Dry and Carling Black Label beer, there were Big Shiny Tunes CD compilations, video rental stores existed, Backstreet was back, and Canada was just about to get the Toonie, and Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in LA.” Oh the days.
But 2016, not 1996. Edwin Ghazal came on stage. He looked stockier, more barrel-chested. The Bruce and Brians on bass were now a Chuck. Jag looked like a rockin’ dad. Only Christian looked mostly unchanged by two decades. Not that it matters, time bites us all.
They were nervous. Jag and Christian were studious and focused, though exchanged some smiles. It took Edwin a good half the album to relax into the Edwin of Before, the confident rock monster, but he did eventually….and who could blame him before that? I’d be crapping myself, too. Since they were playing S&F in order, “One More Astronaut” was robbed of its enormity by nerves, but somewhere around side 2 (remember those?) and towards the end of the noodly “Shortcut to Moncton” into “Pisser” then into “Raspberry”, I Mother Earth flung itself back into the 90s, plugged back in and connected. Guitar, drums, voice, were REALLY BIG once again. And, at the end of it all, the band came out front to hug and wave on stage. The look of relief was obvious. And earned.
So say what you want about reunions. Sometimes bands do them for the money, sometimes they do it for the fans, and sometimes they do it for themselves. Whatever the case, I Mother Earth brought back their big shiny tunes, and for a moment, it was good. \m/
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