Gene Ween | 01.16.10 | Philadelphia

Words & Images by: Jake Krolick

Gene Ween :: 01.16.09 :: World Café Live :: Philadelphia, PA

Gene Ween :: 01.16 :: Philadelphia
If you're a Ween fan, then the Gene Ween show at the World Café Live would have been your fantasy. Call it what you want, but a slightly grayer haired Aaron "Gene Ween" Freeman smiling in his tube socks, playing an acoustic guitar alone onstage was a night of excitement any way you cut it.

Gene's stripped down takes on some classic Ween fare were just what the good doctor Daniels prescribed. It took a setting like this to help show just why Gene Ween is one of the top songwriters of our time, able to piece together tidbits of odd, funny lyrics into songs that can actually be thoughtful. Plus, kudos to the World Café Live for hosting a two-hour pre-show mixer that included an all-you-could-drink selection of 20 micro-brews and Belgian beers, all for a crisp Andrew Jackson ($20). After last year's Gene Ween Band show (review here), I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wondered how Gene was doing these days. My questions were answered before the first song was over - he's looking and sounding better than ever! Sure, he was sporting a rooster's plume of gray on his head, but his smile was immeasurable as he dusted off almost 20 songs near and dear to the Pennsylvania faithful.

If you didn't love Gene Ween before you entered the World Café, well, you probably didn't go. However, by the show's close those that did attend loved him even more. His deconstruction and reworking of Ween standards showed a beautiful, yet still deeply eccentric side to the brown sound storyteller. As he wrapped his lips around "The Chancy Boys," an oddly tender side of Gene Ween emerged. During a particularly strong cover of Neil Young's "I Am A Child" he pulled a clever switch on the lyrics and made Young's line, "What is the color when black is brown?" This was Gene Ween the folk singer, just your friendly twisted version of Burl Ives and Shel Silverstein.

Gene Ween :: 01.16 :: Philadelphia
He was wonderfully vivid and brought to life Quebec's "Chocolate Town" and the younger Ween offering "Spiritwalker" off La Cucaracha. He started some of the songs by explaining their inspiration. He said, "This is a song I wrote at the beach," before playing "Kite Flying Man." He paused during the encore, "Buenos Tardes Amigos," to tell us that the Spanish flavored oddity was created while watching Sesame Street. It was easy to see his role as a father has suited him well and I can't begin to imagine the wonderful tales and songs he has sung to his children over the past years. The fact that we got a peek at a softer Gene Ween was a real treat.

With Gene's family watching off on the side of the stage, he played his version of "Don't Get to Close (To My Fantasy)." This was the turning point of the show as he contorted his face with as much ease as Bruce Bickford molded clay for Frank Zappa. He dug deep as he sang, "Don't be afraid to clutch the hand of your creator/ Stare into the lion's eyes/ and if you taste the candy you'll get to the surprise!" The crowd was entirely with him and sung along as he retooled the track to include some humorous do-do-do's instead of the whistled breakdown and they were right there helping him scream the end.

Our fascination with the aging troubadour bubbled up all evening in such little exchanges. Between cries of, "I love you, Gener," the audience questioned his choice of footwear - white tube socks sans shoes? He tossed back, "My mom got these for me," and "I only sing slow songs in my socks." At some point after a darling version of "So Long Jerry," his ode to Jerry Garcia, he misplaced his guitar capo under the music on his stand and the crowd shouted, "Maybe it's in your socks!" His retort was a beautiful and very Beatles-eque version of The Pod's "Oh My Dear (Falling In Love)." Live, he accentuated one of the album's lo-fi masterpieces in a way no recording can match.

Gene Ween :: 01.16 :: Philadelphia
The evening's strongest point came during a back to back romp through "The Mollusk" and "Stallion Pt. 3." Each was superb and made the night for most fans in the house. Gene Ween again deconstructed each song down to its bare bones form. During "The Mollusk," he let the audience fill in the psychedelic keyboard sounds and electronic horns with their own vocal stylings as he strummed the refrain. He dug into "The Mollusk's" crafty lyrics by lowering his voice a few octaves and furrowing his brow to sing the chorus before having some fun really dragging out the "Yes/ No" and story portions of the song. This was Gene Ween unbridled; the jester commanding his court with a wild tale of a sea creature stirred from the land. As if this wasn't enough Boognish bliss he danced through "Stallion Pt. 3," drawing more audience delight and participation on the "Hey, dude, he's the stallion/ Yo, dude, he's the stallion/ Dude, he's the stallion" portion, where he uncorked his lowest vocal tones of the night.

After a short leave, he stepped back onstage for a one song encore, the aforementioned "Buenos Tardes Amigos," which culminated in a barrage of socks tossed onto the stage by the crowd to close the show. Gene Ween, the fun-loving showman he is, retaliated by pulling off his own sweaty socks and tossing them into the audience.

Gene Ween tour dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of Gene Ween in Philly...

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