While it was tough to fill the boots of the studly, mono-named Edwin - the former frontman who departed for poppier pastures two years ago - early reports suggest that I Mother Earth's new singer, Brian Byrne, is a hit.
But don't take the band's word for it. Hear for yourself when I Mother Earth plays tomorrow night in the Shaw Conference Centre.
As drummer and lyricist Christian Tanna recalls, Byrne made his debut singing to 20,000 skeptical I Mother Earth fans at the Summersault festival in Toronto last year. Tanna had a good vantage point from behind his kit.
"In the first song or two, all the people in the front just watched: 'OK, let's see what happens. Let's watch this car crash.' By the third song it was over. Everyone was totally involved with this guy."
Tanna goes on, "I'm not here to slag Edwin, but everyone senses there's a new, exciting face. It's just a different ball game. This guy goes out and he's not afraid to be who he is. He's not trying to be anything other than himself. He's not trying to attract little girls, he's not trying to be sexy, he's not putting on any kind of phoney fronts at all. He's really connecting with a lot of people. It's been interesting to sit where I sit and watch it all happen.
"And now that people have the new album (Blue Green Orange), from the first note on, it's over. You don't hear Edwin's name at any of our shows, unless it's something negative."
Ouch. Poor Ed. At least he has the hit songs on his solo debut, Another Spin Around the Sun, to console him. Besides, he already had his chance to slag his bandmates during a promotion tour earlier this year. Like the members of I Mother Earth, he said he really didn't care to go into it - and then did anyway. It's clear there is still plenty of acrimony brewing in the two camps.
Tanna says the whole thing is getting old and wants to take the high road. "There's room enough out there for everyone to like whoever they want."
What's more interesting is how Brian Byrne went from being a singer in a Toronto goth band called Klaven to fronting Canada's top closet prog-rock band. Once the decision to part ways with Edwin was made, the band put out an open audition call. I can see the ad now: "Lead singer wanted for Canadian rock band. Record company interest. No pretty boys. No egos." Like hundreds of singers across the world, Byrne sent in a demo tape. Like the vast majority of applicants, it was instantly rejected.
"It went into the s--- pile," Tanna laughs. "It wasn't of great quality and we must've been fried or something, listening to a bunch of crap. There were hundreds of tapes. As soon as we heard the poor recording quality, it was like, oh, my God. But I happened to have a drum teacher at the time who said, 'Hey, there's a guy I know I played with in Klaven who sent you a tape.' And I said, 'Put it in my hand, I'll listen to it.' When it's someone you know, you take it a little more seriously. So he brought me a tape, we listened to it again and there was really something going on with this guy's voice. It wasn't just a guy screaming.
"I find the whole thing hilarious. We throw this guy's tape out and end up getting him in the band. And the amazing thing now is that I can't picture us any other way. I can't even picture us in the past."
Perhaps he's just repressing the chaos of the past two years. Not only did I Mother Earth change lead singers, the band also dumped its management, got a new record company and basically "fired everyone that worked around us." (All except the soundman, who must've wisely kept his mouth shut throughout the whole fracas.) The new team creates a much "calmer" environment, Tanna says, while Byrne fits in like he's been there all along.
"We went through a lot of s---, but it's where you arrive at the end that's just as interesting. I'm not going to sit here and sing Brian's praises. He's a great guy and we're all really tight. He belongs in this band."
By the way, just for the record, Tanna admits to preferring Van Halen when Diamond Dave was in the band. Tickets to I Mother Earth, backed up by Finger Eleven, are $23.50 and available at Ticketmaster (451-8000).