As if it hadn’t been four years, and a whole lot of drama, since the last time Ween performed, Aaron Freeman — who had shocked his bandmates in 2012 by announcing, in a Rolling Stone interview, that Ween was over and that he’d no longer go by Gene Ween — smiled and told a sold-out, and roaring, 1STBANK Center last night, “We’re Ween. This is Dean Ween; I’m Gene Ween.” After playfully opening with “What Deaner Was Talking About," Ween blazed through more than thirty mostly heavy-rock tunes in a nearly three-hour set — one that fulfilled drummer Claude Coleman’s promise to Westword that the reunion weekend would be “a bloodletting.”
Although the set leaned heavily on the band's most well-known songs (“Spinal Meningitis,” “Roses Are Free,” “Buenos Tardes Amigo,” etc.) from its most well-known album (1994's Chocolate and Cheese), Ween — with fog engulfing it, as usual — spent a good part of its long-awaited reunion digging into what Freeman called “deep tracks.” An absolutely brutal “Awesome Sound,” led by “Deaner” — one of the truly underrated guitarists in rock history — juxtaposed the tongue-in-cheek sheen of “Boys Club” and the new-wavey punk of “Now I’m Freaking Out.”
Beyond breaking out rarities like “Beacon Light” and “Licking the Palm for Guava,” however, what the five-piece Ween did last night, really, was bring unabashed hard rock back to the arena circuit, which has lately been for the likes of U2, Justin Bieber and countless Grateful Dead spinoffs. Ween may have been wildly eccentric and experimental in the diverse songwriting and recording across its first years together (1984-2012) — traversing countless genres it co-opted into dark satire — but its Colorado reunion, which eschewed spacier jaunts like "Captain" or "The Rift," reminded fans that Ween's live game is heavy guitar rock, filtering the energy of the Dead Kennedys, the flair of Hendrix and the assault of Black Sabbath into songs about, for instance, tick infestation and mushrooms.
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Thankfully, Ween’s lengthy performance on Friday night, the first of three 1STBANK shows that Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) vowed will include over one hundred songs with no repeats, also reminded the audience repeatedly that it is not a jam band. Sure, Ween played songs — such as the Maggot Brain-esque “A Tear for Eddie" — that let Melchiondo use his Stratocaster as a face-melting tool, but the rest of the band is just fiercely supporting him, not unlike Prince or Frank Zappa, or even Tony Iommi, would be. Execution, the trademark of rock and roll, is the antithesis of what jam bands represent, and the cornerstone of what Ween does — which is a funny thing to realize about a band that last night had thousands of fans singing along with the lines “Am I gonna see God, Mommy? Am I gonna die?”
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The initial 1STBANK Center show also quickly brought humor back to arena rock, with Gene and Dean — who seemed to fully revitalize their since-the-eighth-grade bond on the duet “The Goin’ Gets Tough From the Getgo” — resurrecting their habit of postmarking songs: “That last one was ‘Buckingham Green,’ by Ween.” After “How High Can You Fly?” Melchiondo un-selfconsciously exclaimed, “Fuck, yeah! I could do that all night,” and after a punky “Nan,” the guitarist raised his arms in glory like fellow Philly hero Bobby Clarke.
The elephant in the room — as it was when Freeman played a few surprise gigs at the tiny, now-defunct B-Side Lounge in Boulder back in 2009 — was the sobriety of frontman Melchiondo lovingly called “Papa Gene Ween.” Amid endless clouds of marijuana smoke, it was impossible not to wonder — especially standing next to a thirteen-year-old Denver boy whose father had brought him to his first Ween concert — how anyone could’ve made it through the night without getting at least a little stoned.
It seemed impossible, as well, to not feel exhilarated during “Roses Are Free,” the song that (for better or worse) brought a bigger audience to Ween when Phish started playing it in the ‘90s. As Gene and Dean grinned through their Allman Brothers-style dual-guitar solo at the song’s end, confetti filled every inch of the arena. Afterward, Freeman joked, “We wanted it to be dollar bills."
Random Detail: Night one of the 1STBANK run is already available for free download at Archive.org.
Personal Bias: My first Ween shows were as a teenager at small clubs in Pittsburgh where I'd been playing regularly as a punk drummer. To see what I considered a classic-rock band playing those same small clubs, drinking from bottles of Jack Daniel's and surrounded by topless local women who joined them on stage, was affecting, to say the least. To see a grown-up, apparently sober Ween (whose founding members are both fathers like myself) with thousands of others last night, it felt like I was sharing in their triumph. That triumph included a slew of lyrics that aren’t for the easily offended, such as “Waving My Dick in the Wind” and “Mister Richard Smoker.” Needless to say, I did not bring my six-year-old daughter, who is a big Ween fan. “Even this [age] is pushing it,” the Denver dad who brought his thirteen-year-old son told me. “It depends on how much profanity and pot smoke you want.”