Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Gene Ween Band :: 02.12.09 :: World Cafe' Live :: Philadelphia, PA
February 12, 2009 was Darwin Day, a global celebration of the evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin's birth. You know, that bloody English bloke who demonstrated that all species of life have evolved through the process he called natural selection. As a fitting celebration of this man and his ideas, we celebrated in Philadelphia by seeing Gene Ween and his all-star band tear through an ever-evolving variety of music. They repeated the process of musical mutation until they had properly showered us with the evolution of the brown sound.
Gene Ween :: 02.12 :: Philly|
Violent winds blew up the Northeast corridor while the Stumblebum Brass Band juiced-up the massive World Cafe Live crowd. Frontman Josh Malone spit fire and brimstone, scatting over their catalog with skill. Malone blazed with liveliness during the back-of-the-throat horn blower "Cut the Crap." He sprayed us with the choicest of vulgarities including a description of sex in the rear (no, not the backseat of a Volkswagen). The Ween faithful lapped up his enthusiasm and trash talk, feeling comfortable with the level of playful indecency encapsulated by his vocal repertoire. Not satisfied with the performance's end, the masses demanded more from the dirty-little-brass-band-that-could. They accommodated our wishes with a little floor freestyle session with the crowd dancing and chanting our approval.
These days, taking a break as a band is a popular notion. So, at the end of last summer, Ween decided to go on an indefinite hiatus. However, all was not lost. Enter Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene) new assemblage, called appropriately enough the Gene Ween Band. This inbred side-project pulled the seeds of greatness from within the Ween family circle. All four members of the Gene Ween band are interconnected already through the bands Bustle in Your Hedgerow, Chris Harford & the Band of Changes and Ween. The upside to this is that the music just poured out naturally. The band members knew each other well enough to take risks and just let the songs work themselves out in the process. The downfalls were minimal and due to a lack of actual time to practice, small flubs occurred fairly often. However, for every false step there was a roaring, frothing brown sound that followed.
Onstage, Gene blocked the light, pushing an extra 50 pounds tucked under his belt. His face held his distorted smile and for the most part his jovial attitude opened the door for some splendid musical moments. He wrapped a curled lip around opener "Mountains and Buffalo," letting a rock foundation build up around him. Sure Claude Coleman nimbleness and Dean Ween's legendary axe skills are missing, but it offered a greater emphasis on Freeman's gifts as a vocal banshee, Joe Russo's undying spirit on drums, and Scott Metzger's exceptional guitar chops. From the start, the Gene Ween Band demonstrated they could produce the genuine lunacy that makes Ween songs so entertaining. The well-executed opener got a nice harmonious hand from Metzger, but it wasn't until "Boing" that the browned-out sound reared its ugly head. Metzger and Freeman traded soaring licks as Dave Driewitz filled out the bass pocket. In the background Russo smacked the skins. He was a blast to watch all evening, showing such a great sense of control while just bubbling with energy. As he played he would throw in a ton of extracurricular moves as a way of saying, "Hey I've got a shit load of licks, just watch me demonstrate some of my best drum acrobatics." Thrown sticks galore, hand jives, head bounces and arm dances, Russo just leaked pure entertainment. It was as if you were watching Elvin Jones, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr, all wrapped into one.
|Metzger & Gene :: 02.12.09|
Gene cut open the center portion of the evening, hanging out some of his finest distorted faces as he sung "Blue Balloon." Its floating melody carried nicely into the reggae feel of "Thanks and Praises," whose finish was a fist pumping shout to the room about everything Jah. This was complimented by the Parisian oddity "Greg the Bunny," which prompted some in the house to scream, "Play more depressing French songs!" But, Freeman was on a roll and nothing could topple his house of weird.
|Double Driewitz :: 02.12.09|
"Let's Get Divorced" again showcased Freeman's vocal abilities as he matched tones with Dreiwitz's tuba, crudely mouthing, "Let's get divorced/ See you in court/ You're stupid and unworthy of my love." Vocally it exposed the raw, unyielding drollness that only Ween can pull off, while melodically it bore similarities to Ween's classic "Poopship Destroyer." Driewitz's horn playing has improved drastically and his tuba carried the show into one of the trippiest jams of the evening, "I fell in love today." This Shinola song was a throwback to '60s psychedelia. Again, Russo came to life on the drums, holding back by demonstrating his crafty stick work as Metzger and Freeman worked a wondering acid trip of a guitar line that would have made The Mother Hips proud.
The crowd pulsed with punchy spirit as the single set came to a close. On both sides of the stage fists and libations flew before the band emerged to uncork a nasty encore. The "Mr. Sandman", "Stallion Part 4" and "Friends" finale began above the masses with a spin of the disco ball. In true Ween fashion, Gene sang "Mr. Sandman," showcasing his demented-elf vocal aesthetic as bouncing circles of light carried the cover of Pat Ballard's '50s hit around the room. The "Stallion 4" built us up with a roar of guitars and bass before Russo toppled our mountain with his masterful carry of pulsing live beats, which continued through a rocking version of "Friends." This take on "Friends" was the best I've heard to date, slaughtering the EP version, and, judging by the look of the crowd, was immensely appreciated.
When you see the Gene Ween Band, don't come looking for a Ween show. In its place you'll find a refined version of the wild that Ween normally oozes. You're going to be sent on one of the weirdest musical journeys your ears will ever hear, while discovering Ween rarities and covers not normally heard. Even missing half of Ween's core members, the Gene Ween Band proved quite competent in producing a stellar sound. It was smart, witty music that ultimately does more than simply carry fans thru the break – it offers something to cheer about. Freeman mentioned that the band would be going into the studio soon to record an album. Until then, the Gene Ween Band is on tour through mid-April for you to get your taste of the brown sound.
Gene Ween Band :: 02.12.09 :: World Cafe' Live :: Philadelphia, PA
Mountains And Buffalo, It's Not Cool, I'll Miss You, Baby Don't Be Afraid, Boing, Now Be Thankful, Blue Balloons, Give Thanks And Praises, Greg The Bunny, Kite Flying Man, It Freaks Me Out, Let's Get Divorced, I Fell In Love Today, Kansas City Star, DC Will Do You No Good, So Long Jerry > Chancy Boys
Encore: Mr. Sandman, The Stallion Part 4, Friends
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