Ever the rock stars, the Brothers Ween kept the sardine-like throng in suspense for almost two hours before finally gracing the stage at The Tradewinds, a tiny rock club set against the dunes of the Jersey Shore. Ignoring the many cries of their faithful followers that traveled far and wide, the prospects for the official Spring Tour kickoff hit a fever pitch for the hometown gig.
The fan-accessible band wandered in and out of the back stage area prior to the show, greeting friends, family and the odd super-fan who had trouble containing herself, walking away with an autographed hand she promised would be tattooed for posterity. While Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) and Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) aren't rock stars by definition (or even relatives) you'd be hard-pressed to convince their loyal fans. To the followers of The Boognish, these guys are demi-gods.
To the uninitiated, Ween is not considered a "jamband." Indeed it is a "rock band," but just what kind of rock band is impossible to describe. Given these very loose terms, their amazing talent for great song-craft cannot be mistaken. If nothing else, Ween is one of the most innovative and creative bands in the more recent history of rock music. Their songs are some of the best written in the past decade. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics offend many but help to keep Frank Zappa's First Amendment fight an open case (and his habit of cigarettes stuck in the necks of guitars ongoing). The sheer volume of their live shows threaten Mountain's long held record for "The Loudest Band Ever." Immersing myself in the pit for the entire show produced an intense ringing in my ear that continues as I finish this review Monday morning. At this point I fear permanent damage is a strong possibility and tinnitus may now be setting in. I imagine this is what it sounds like during a locust swarm.
While this important rock 'n' roll recipe has helped create a maniacally loyal following, it may also contribute to critic's scorn of a novelty band without a mainstream breakthrough. But a close look at their latest off-stage forays into television (South Park, Grounded For Life and Spongebob Squarepants) proves that "important" people are listening and the message of the Boognish is heralded.
Arriving from stage left with Dave Dreiwitz on bass and Claude Coleman, Jr. on drums at around 9:45, the band offered no apologies for their tardiness. Instead, Freeman offered a simple warning in the form of "Fuckin' Friday night at The Tradewinds... bad news." All was quickly forgotten as the show jump-started with the opening cut from their latest album, White Pepper, a high energy "Exactly Where I'm At." The sublime and weepy "She Wanted to Leave" helped ease us into the pounding two guitar attack of "The Grobe." Complete with a smoke machine that ghosted the band, the song forced fans' heads to thrash about and elbows into nearby ribs. The "I hate you because you left me" complaint of "Baby Bitch" found Driewitz' bass thumping out a lead that mellowed the band's wont for energetic hiccups and the painful lyrics were complimented by the song's lilting playfulness.
The light-speed vocals of "The Tick" found Freeman mastering all forms of singing and his effect-less range the perfect compliment to Ween's schizophrenic canon of tunes. The sweet timing of Coleman Jr.'s drumbeats dominated the happy madness of "Waving My Dick In the Wind." Wasting no time and moving back to their early '80's punk-like roots, "Papa Zit" was short and sweet complete with superior Ramones-like breaks.
Following the disco feel of "Voodoo Lady" the boogie oogie must have been too much for Coleman, Jr. Breaking his kick drum and bringing in a replacement afforded the opportunity to drag a rarity out in the form of "The Weasel." The varmint got some nice treatment out of Melchiondo's slow and easy wah pedal. Mouthing whole guitar tabs, it's easy to equate the Deaner to another six-string master, Neil Young, in their chronic mannerisms. Just as Young cannot help but stomp around the stage and show agony in his countenance, Dean Ween cannot help but crouch until the guitar touches the stage and contort his face to the movements of his fingers on the fret-board. Need a better analogy? He is the Joe Cocker of guitar!
Easing their drummer's new skin back into the show, the Led Zeppelin-like blues of "Back to Basom" kept the sweaty crowd at bay and warmed them to the sunny sounds of "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree." Not only does the title lend this little ditty to the following pigeonhole, the song itself is a mimic of vintage 1960's Love-In tunes. If you close your eyes tight and picture a band like The Strawberry Alarm Clock busting this one out in a Haight district coffee shop or on a makeshift stage at the end of Ashbury St. It's a bona-fide pop song that would make your parent's fingers form a "V" and induce them to shove daisies into rifle barrels. They kept on grooving, too, eventually landing on their only genuine hit from 1992's Pure Guava offering up the pop insanity of "Push Th' Little Daisies".
Opting next for an electric mandolin, Freeman kicked into "Ocean Man" allowing the audience a chance to participate with claps. Succumbing to the deep-blue-sea theme of the New Jersey coastline right outside, "The Mollusk" proved the most appropriate choice to hearken the natural surroundings off the back of the club and continue with a theme.
Melchiondo's punk count-off of 1-2-3-4 exploded into the mean and nasty shouts of the hard core "Dr. Rock" and forced one too many hands into the air for crowd approval. "Touch My Tooter" came next and proved prophetic as Freeman took a bathroom break to wash out the 3-odd Rolling Rocks that were being sucked down between songs. It also gave Melchiondo the chance to show off his vocal styling with the bass-and drum dominant "Pumpin' 4 The Man" saving his guitar playing exclusively for the song's natural solo.
South Park's own off-color but very funny "The Rainbow" is not only a clever take on gay pride bumper stickers but exemplified Ween's vocal abilities finishing up with a soft and easy vocal jam that proved impossible to keep a collective straight face.
Overwhelmed with Melchiondo's poor decision of taking requests, the band opted to assemble for an impromptu meeting. Resolving to bust out a brand new cover, Ween played Metallica with a bone-rattling dead-on version of "Enter Sandman." Freeman even lowered his mic stand a la James Hetfield and did his best to sound vile. Since Metallica is currently seeking a new bass player, I request that Dave Driewitz be considered off-limits. As "Sandman" proved he could certainly ease into Jason Newsted's vacant slot, but he is much too important to Ween keeping them honest and right on with timing.
The 8-song encore brought two special guests, Chris Harford and Rev. Bill Fowler for "Drifter In the Dark" and "Stroker Ace," respectively. At this point I had removed myself due to lightheadedness: from the body heat emanating from "mini mosh pits," the quartet's constant pounding and amplification that was up way beyond eleven.
JamBase New Jersey Correspondent
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FAIR WARNING: Ween is not recommended for the faint of heart. If you have a condition that may hinder your enjoyment, consult a physician before attending. Foul language, drinking, smoking and digital castigation are prevalent at all shows.