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.

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