Mother Mother battles nostalgia at 10-year celebration of classic album

Mother Mother with Little Destroyer at the Imperial, 5/31/18

Photo by Brent Holmes

“Nostalgia is a real motherfucker,” Ryan Guldemond joked before busting out “Ghosting,” a fan favourite of Mother Mother’s decade-old O My Heart, at the Imperial on Thursday evening. He implored the crowd to enjoy the song in the moment — a pretty big ask for a concert celebrating the 10-year anniversary of one of Mother Mother’s best albums.

But it’s the truth — in 2008, Mother Mother’s sophomore album rocked the Canadian indie music scene. Mix a combination of existential dread with an overly-cheery sound and duelling harmonies between three distinct vocalists and you produce classics like “O My Heart,” “Ghosting,” “Hayloft,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Body of Years.” Ten years on, those songs have become highlights at every live show in dirty university towns, festivals, and rock halls across Canada.

That’s not even to mention deep cuts like “Wisdom,” “Body,” “Arms Tonite,” and “Sleep Awake,” which dusted off and rolled out, feel fresh with the band adding new solos and tricks to remind music lovers why these songs remain secret favourites among fans.  

Playing the album cover-to-cover with only a brief snippet of an as-of-yet untitled new song can really take the mystery and energy out of a setlist. As if knowing this, Guldemond bantered with the crowd between each song and sometimes during them. After playing through the first verse and chorus of “Hayloft’s” mile-a-minute guitar riff, the entire band stopped as Guldemond grabbed the mic and joked: “oh yeah this song, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it?”   

“This crowd is like a warm hug,” Guldemond ranted late into the set. “I heard someone say that at a rock show, and thought it was weird because how can a crowd be like a warm hug? But now, up here, in the moment, I get it. You’re a warm hug.”

These ramblings, which varied from behind-the-curtain tales about how certain songs were written in his then-girlfriend’s closet, to musings on nostalgia and how weird it is for these songs to be 10 years old, were a perfect combination of poetry, serendipity, and somebody inhaling too much of the dank Vancouver air. In other words, perfectly on brand for Mother Mother.

The set concluded with “Sleep Awake,” a vocally Molly Guldemond-led haunting trip of a song that makes use of her distinctive pitch before busting out a hard-rocking guitar solo.

But as a 40-something minute show, the band was back out for a self-proclaimed “longcore,” which jumped through deep cuts and old favourites from their discography. The band avoided anything too immediately in-reach, passing on easy crowd-pleasers like “The Stand,” “Simply Simple,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” or “Monkey Tree,” and opted instead for songs that they hadn’t played in a while.

Mother Mother went older almost by instinct, going to the band’s debut album Touch Up with “Oh Ana” and fan-favourite “Verbatim” leading the second set. Opening “Verbatim,” Guldemond joked about their first and only review in Pitchfork, which reads:

“The acoustic arpeggios of “Verbatim” sound like a loose cover of — get ready — TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and Ryan Guldemond’s crooning about wearing women’s underwear smacks of dorky-white-guy-imitating-black-guy comedy.”

Shrugging, Guldemond busted out “Verbatim”’s first arpeggio, paused, and the crowd went nuts.

Guldemond thanked Little Destroyer, whose opening set was a punk-rock energizer featuring a lead singer who dressed like a Gwen-Stefani homage busted out a massive cloak and leapt into the audience to cries of “encore!” The only flaw in the opener’s set was the lack of a debut EP or album to capitalize on a clearly growing fanbase.

Fans shouted out requests from “Simply Simple” to “Ball Cap.” Guldemond swaggered to the mic, paused as if seriously considering, then striked his guitar with a defiant “No!”

“Problems,” “Dread in My Heart” and “Bit by Bit,” followed. Before almost capitulating to the fan requests, Mother Mother finished with their recent album’s lead single “The Drugs.”  

Guldemond declared the battle with nostalgia won. For a brief moment, fans of this Canadian indie darling were totally absorbed in riding these songs out like it was the first time. But on the journey home from the Imperial, it was impossible not to dwell on the memory of those tunes playing in some dank, first-year dorm room or parent’s basement. Guldemond’s right — nostalgia really is a motherfucker.