Aaron Freeman at the Fox Theatre, 11/2/12
Aaron Freeman and Joe Young at the Fox Theatre.
Aaron Freeman's set at the Fox felt decidedly familiar. The former Ween frontman may have officially shed the musical alter ego of Gene Ween since his last appearance in Colorado, but a lot about his act has stayed pretty much the same. That much was clear in the show's 24-song set list, which consisted mostly of old Ween songs. It seemed an odd choice for the first tour in support of Freeman's first solo album. Still, no one in the crowd was complaining. In a performance that spanned a little less than two hours, Freeman offered a loud and loyal audience some of the best gems from the Ween catalogue, playing familiar tunes with constant energy, earnestness and expertise. He also managed to throw in two or three new tunes in the process.
Freeman emerged unceremoniously on the bare stage with an acoustic six-string in hand. Joined by backup guitarist and vocalist Joe Young, Freeman made a quick mention of Hurricane Sandy, telling the crowd that he'd just arrived from New Jersey and Young had flown in from Staten Island. That short anecdote was the only preamble for the first tune, a heartfelt rendition of "As I Love My Own." The song is the opening track off Marvelous Clouds, Freeman's first solo record released earlier this year that consists entirely of Rod McKuen covers.
For a few short minutes, the reality of Freeman's departure from Ween seemed a little more real and permanent. Almost a year after Ween played their final three shows as a band in Denver, the crowd packed into the Fox was witnessing a new era for one of its founding members. But any trauma to hardcore Ween fans was quickly eased by a steady stream of old, familiar songs: "As I Love My Own" was followed by a slow, measured version of "Stay Forever" from 2000's White Pepper; a bouncy take on "Spirit Walker" from the 2007 album La Cucaracha; and a joyous, sing-along rendition of "Chocolate Town" from Quebec.
And more Ween tunes like "Your Party," "Flutes of Chi" and "The Argus" followed. The crowd got more and more rowdy as the stream of old songs continued, and even seemed amenable to new material. Someone yelled out "Marvelous Clouds" before Freeman broke into "What Deaner Was Talking About," a song with an awkward titular reference to his former partner, Dean Ween (aka Mickey Melchiondo).
Freeman took a break from Ween songs for a tune he introduced as one of his "favorite songs ever." He looked to a music stand during the performance of the second McKuen piece, a soft-rock ballad titled "Tamarack Tree" that was rich lyrically and harmonically. His voice was clear and solid, and his passion for the material was impossible to miss. It was one of the only breaks from familiar material. Acoustic takes on "I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm" and rare Ween songs like "Ooh Va La" followed. Freeman took to the keyboard for solo versions of "Even if You Don't," "Lullaby" and "Demon Sweat." In lieu of Dean Ween's thunderous guitar solo on "Demon Sweat," Freeman opted for keyboard organ effects.
Young returned for the last stretch of tunes and the encore. Apart from a performance of "Nature Man," a new song that Freeman introduced as "the reason why we're here," the rest of the night was dedicated to old material. Freeman has publicly stated that he's enjoyed nearly a year of sobriety, and the positive effect showed on his sterling renditions of songs like "Sarah," "The Grobe" and a rousing, evocative take of "Buenas Tardes Amigo."
Freeman and Young played crowd favorites with a careful ear for detail. They successfully transcribed a wide range of work for two acoustic guitars; they offered a hungry audience a quick tour through Ween's complex, unpredictable and challenging 25-year history. Overall, it was a heartfelt and sincere feat, a show that struck a chord of celebration.
But the performance also begged a simple question about Freeman's abdication of his role of Gene Ween, a move that effectively broke up the band earlier this year: The name may have been gone here, but the tunes and the spirit were still strong. With only three new songs on the evening's set list, it was hard to understand the logic behind Freeman's departure. It was hard to feel the end of Ween with any real finality.
Personal Bias: Marvelous Clouds has its moments, but I miss Gene and Dean Ween.
Random Note: During the most dramatic point of "Buenas Tardes Amigo," a song seeped in fratricide, murder and revenge, someone yelled out "Die Motherfucker!" It was perfect.
By the Way: Opener Brent Cowles set an acoustic, understated mood for the evening. The frontman of You, Me & Apollo mixed earnest, falsetto-laced vocals and chords strummed with bare fingers. Tunes like "Before I Die" echoed straightforward approach of folk singer Brett Dennen, a sound more suited to a coffeeshop than a stadium. The approach worked in the cozy space of the Fox, and the steadily growing crowd was vocal in its appreciation for Cowles.
Fox Theatre - 11/2/12
"As I Love My Own"
"Flutes of Chi"
"What Deaner Was Talking About"
"I Don't Want to Leave You on the Farm"
"Even If You Don't"
"Tried and True"
"Ooh Va La"
"Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World"
"Light Me Up"
"Stairway to Heaven" intro/ "Buenas Tardes Amigo"
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