Adrienne and I, and our good friends Nancy and Barak, went to see Ween at the Paramount last Wednesday night. Apprehension was running high, as the night before they had put on an illstarred show in Vancouver and Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween), under the heavy influence of something other than his own genius, melted down onstage:
A completely out of it Freeman finally bounced up to slur “Sorry if your panties are in a bunch.” He then proved himself utterly incapable of hitting half the notes in “Freedom of ’76”.
Obviously having had enough, the rest of Ween retreated to the back of the stage while Freeman again attempted to tune his guitar, a task he eventually abandoned. Subsequently, there was a certain irony to watching a totally out of it waste case serenade the crowd with a solo “Birthday Boy”, mostly because of the lyrics “Help me now, I’m going down/And I don’t know if I’ll be okay.” It was right around then that Melchiondo [Dean Ween] finally bailed, leaving the stage with the other members of the band.
Well, Gener certainly pulled his shit together for us in Seattle. The brothers Ween were brilliant. The sound in a live show doesn’t allow much of the subtlety that comes through in their studio recordings; then again, 100+ decibels, smoke machines, epilepsy-inducing colored lights and a sea of stoned fans waving their hands in the air added a certain irreproducible quality.
For those of you who don’t know Ween, I don’t think it’s possible to sum them up in any meaningful way without an hour-long education at the turntable. They’re musical prodigies who began playing together in their teens in New Hope, Pennsylvania in the late 80s. Like Gerhard Richter and David Mitchell, they’re “at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, and apparently can do anything”. If you ever hear something surprising and delicious, innocent and nightmareish, don’t assume it’s not Ween. They’ve written songs starring vacuum cleaners and childrens’ Casiotone keyboards. They’ve sung barroom shanties exuding whiskey vapors and football violence. They’ve recorded some of the best prog rock I’ve heard. They’ve performed alchemy on Donovan’s dippy new age folk ramblings and turned them into art. They’ve out-screamed Sid Vicious and out-raunched Big Black. They’ve done lo-fi better than Beck, and nouveau garage better than The Greenhornes. They’ve recorded a misogynistic country album with Elvis’s old band, and it has some really good songs on it, actually. They can touch nothing without appropriating it, can appropriate nothing without twisting it into funny shapes, and can twist nothing without showing it the highest reverence.
OK, this may not be particularly enlightening, but maybe you’ll try an album. I’d recommend GodWeenSatan: The Oneness for a scenic overlook of their very own valley of genius— they recorded this in their late teens.
One of the sweet surprises of the Paramount show was the way Ween mutated certain short, minor studio tracks into great looming things. I’ll be your Johnny on the spot, a pleasant enough but rather thin two minute song from The Mollusk, turned into a roiling, fifteen minute monster of aggressive guitarwork punctuated by Gene yelling the innocuous farm-boy words into a megaphone.
I get up early in the morn
I slop the pigs, mama shucks the corn
I get up early in the morn.
The Mollusk’s last song, She wanted to leave, was for me the least interesting on the album, but also became beautiful and lyrical in the extended treatment.
At the end of the evening, after a long wait, the band came back out for a perfect encore, running in rapid succession through Dancing in the show tonight, You fucked up, and Touch my tooter.
Are my ribbons tied,
Is my hair in place?
Have I got a cute expression on my face?
Are my shoes all shined?
I’ll try to keep in line
When I’m dancing in the show tonight.
Does my shuffle step
Really look so good?
Am I doing it the way you think I should?
Would it be amiss
If I blew a kiss
When I’m dancing in the show tonight?
Showtime now is getting nearer
And I’m getting scared
Wish I could see in the mirror
If I’m all prepared.
First you take a step
Then you point your toe
Hope I knew it like I did a week ago
Am I standing straight?
I can hardly wait
Til I’m dancing in the show tonight.