Hearing a band, in conjunction with seeing them in a live setting, often provides insight to, and clarification of, their music. Never so much as with New Hope, Pennsylvania's musical pride, Ween. People identify with their music sight unseen--their ridiculously versatile, yet rock-solid musicianship, witty and cutting heartfelt lyrics, beguiling melodies, emotive sounds, unyielding, colon-shaking rhythm section, and charming inability to take themselves too seriously. But for most people it's not until they physically observe Ween that their world either falls apart or makes wonderful lunatic sense.
Luckily for myself and countless others, it is the latter. Additionally accounting for the popularity of the fabled brothers Ween (Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo) are their commanding Gener and Deaner personas, their aforementioned instrumental and poetic abilities, and a general willingness--nay need--to push the envelope. Dare I say that the members of Ween are physical manifestations of the music? For that reason alone, it can get a little insane. Talent, conviction, heart, and cojones furnish Ween with an awesome sound with a resonance all its own.
Live Ween is a screaming runaway locomotive barreling through your cerebral cortex. The addition of a fanatical audience, a fancy-pants light show, and a thundering sound system serve to stoke that train. Thus, I expected nothing less short of madness during three Ween shows I attended in early October in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. I assure you--I was not disappointed.
Ween | 09.29.03 | The Crystal Ballroom | Portland, OR
Currently touring to support their latest studio album, Quebec, Ween played two nights at McMennamin's Crystal Ballroom to sold-out, somewhat militant Portland crowds. The first chord struck began "Buckingham Green," igniting the first show, a fairly standard Ween opener to get everybody acquainted and in the mood. A couple measures of calm before mega-drummer Claude Coleman, Jr. and bassist Dave Dreiwitz came in, effectively and collectively, stunning the crowd. As I looked around, what I saw reminded me of an old Maxell ad--the one with the guy in the chair being blown away by the sound. (As an aside, I think many felt relief seeing Claude healed, recovered, and in his place behind the drum kit, the tattoo across his upper chest flapping its wings with each drum stroke. Cheers, Claude.) Ween was to have played an in-store earlier that afternoon, but it was cancelled due to suspected food poisoning running its course on Deaner. Perhaps for this reason the show got off to a marginal start--rockin' for any other band, but slightly lethargic for Ween. It did pick up, though, and highlights included a verging-on-threatening "Don’t Get Too Close to My Fantasy," followed by "Springtheme," with a drawn-out Deaner solo, and later, a searing "Johnny On the Spot" and "Fat Lenny." The show's closer was a tear-jerking "Fluffy," which had many of the 1,500 people in attendance singing along. Fifteen or so gyrating ladies were welcomed to the stage for the encore, a bacchanalian "Let Me Lick Your Pussy."
By Forrest Hirtzel
Ween | 09.30.03 | The Crystal Ballroom | Portland, OR
The crowd at the second Portland show was slightly more relaxed, which seemed to bode well for everyone. But it was just as packed as the previous night, everyone excessively pushing, glaring, and ponying for the best view possible--not a pretty scenario for this 5'4" chiquita. I've always consoled myself by saying that I don't go to shows to see them, but rather to hear them. Yeah, that's a load of poo 'cause apparently everybody, including me, wants to watch Ween work under the spell of almighty Boognish. This is the total command that Ween wields over their audience. I dig the theatrics and interplay. I want Gener to look me square in the eye, to throw me a chill, to connect me to the story. Oddly, I crave Deaner or Claude giving me the bird; you've gotta be close to get any of that action. Did he look at me during "Don't Sweat It?" I can't say for sure, but I got caught up like so many before me.
By Forrest Hirtzel
Portland's second show opened with a thundering "Captain Fantasy," the Ballroom's dance floor buckling and jumping with Claude and Dave's beats. Show moments included the enigmatic "Golden Eel" and Led Zeppelin's "All of My Love," with keyboardist Glenn McClelland stealing the song. About three-quarters of the way through the show, during "Pandy Fackler," there was a snap and a vast majority of the Crystal's speakers, save the band's monitors, went out. What had happened was not immediately apparent, but turning around and seeing the expressions on people farther back, one could tell something was amiss. That's right: another sound system falls victim to the Boognish. When told by the crew what had happened, the band handled it wonderfully–-Gener just grinned as the band launched into "Deez Nuts," a nod (perhaps an improvement) to The Guess Who's "These Eyes." After wandering to the back of the room to assess the damage, all I could hear was the "clonk, drag, clonk, slap" of one rhythmically stunted guy wearing dress shoes (think Seinfeld's dancing Elaine Bennis). A show without full audio is a little eerie, and thankfully, after about ten minutes the sound came back to the house, though I am not convinced it was 100 percent. Everybody applauded in relief, at which point "Big Jilm" and "Blarney Stone" ended the set. A meaningful, Gener-laden "Buenos Tardes Amigos" encore and group bow followed, closing the show and the two-day run.
Ween | 10.01.03 | The Moore Theatre | Seattle, WA
Onto Seattle. The Moore Theatre, most famously featured in Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" video, is generally not a favorite venue of the city's music lovers. The room makes most electric music sound muddy and joyless; less importantly, much of the seating is in two balconies, and to put it quite mildly, security is a bit tight. I peered down from the edge of the first terrace: another sold-out show with fans crowding the stage on which I graduated from high school. The lights went down and the band came out. Right away they seemed friskier and more dynamic than at either of the Portland shows, as did the audience. Any concerns I had were set to rest as Ween sounded quite good at the Moore, especially the acoustic numbers mid-show. Barefoot, chatty, and ready to rock, they again launched into "Buckingham Green" to open the show.
By Joshua Kessler
What followed was a superior show. High points included "Nan" and Quebec's "The Argus," which seems to me an epic poem. The Ween brothers' dual acoustic "Birthday Boy" and "Don't Laugh I Love You," with Deaner on bass, and Gene's solo acoustic "Sarah," all sounded amazing. Mid-set and mid-song, Gener turned around with an impish grin and we were treated to Prince's "Kiss" in the middle of "Voodoo Lady." Given that "Voodoo Lady" was played at both Portland shows, it was great to hear Ween mix it up a bit. Rounding out the show was the anthem-like "Booze Me Up and Get Me High," which morphed into a smoldering, curfew-straining "Poopship Destroyer." Following the Seattle show, a friend, in an admiring and complimentary way, described Ween as "outright, brown, wastey rock." I couldn't agree more. Although playing songs from Quebec at all three shows, I was glad that Ween continue to represent material way back to their nascent God Ween Satan days. New live favorites include the terrifically manic "Happy Colored Marbles," the playfully narcotic "Zoloft," and a pleading, beautiful "I Don't Want It."
Banter is essential to the live music experience, and Ween's included discussion about "smoking a rock," Gener's recollection on the possible Seattle origins of "Spinal Meningitis," and Deaner unsuccessfully trying to get Claude to sing "Put the Coke on My Dick." (Hey, they never claimed to be PG-rated.) My balcony view allowed me to witness the delicate dance at which Ween excels: getting totally stink-o while playing a great show. The solos, the timing, the ducking behind the amps, disappearing and reappearing artists... Classy. But if that allows Ween to rock even harder, which it seemingly always has, so be it--cha cha cha! Regardless, Deaner hunched over playing his guitar level with his ankles, and Gener, cavorting about the stage, playfully jumping up to slap the Boognish backdrop, left me warm and fuzzy. I am sure I am not alone.
For us Ween-hungry Pacific Northwesties, these three shows were indeed a big, brown treat. Despite food poisoning and sound outage in Portland, and a fumbled "Ocean Man" in Seattle, we got high-quality material. These things happen; Ween is about the only band that can not only get away with it, but also make it charming. Ultimately, Ween let form and rigidity--with their tunes and shows--take a back seat to the spontaneity and endeavor of live music. You know what you will get with a Ween ticket: undoubtedly some repeats, hopefully a bit of silliness, and ideally, the best material any of the members are capable of each night. Graciously saluting and bowing to their influences, it seems they have surpassed many--truly unique in today's musical climate. It's not to say that you can't hear the Beatles or visions of punk in their music, or see flashes of Robert Plant in Gener; it's that they have elevated ideas, themes, and antics to a completely different level. The material from the new album is solid, which allows for, and encourages, experimentation or re-tooling in a live setting. Ween's overall live sound hasn't strayed much since I last saw them (at the first Bonnaroo); perhaps more contrast and nuance were provided by acoustic numbers and tone of the songs on Quebec, but their music is still as bold and palpitation-inspiring as ever. Speaking on behalf of the many fans that have, and those who have not yet had the chance to see Ween, it is my sincere hope that someday the band chooses to release a DVD. I see no reason that I would ever turn it off. Until then though, you'll just have to go out and experience the now-touring Ween for yourself.
JamBase | North West
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