Early in the first show of Ween's three-night stint at the Fillmore, guitarist and frontman Dean Ween offered the crowd a simple game plan: "We're Ween. We're the band for the next few days," Dean Ween (aka Mickey Melchiondo) announced casually as his musical partner in crime Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) grinned at his side. "We're gonna play you a shitload of songs over the next three days."
If the first show of the series was any indication, the Ween brothers intend to make good on that promise. The band's initial set included more than thirty songs and spanned more than two hours. The playlist drew from the entirety of the band's discography, easily jumping between tunes from their most recent studio release - 2007's La Cucaracha - to tracks from 1990's GodWeenSatan: The Oneness and 1992's Pure Guava.
The selection included plenty of numbers that have become proven crowd favorites at a Ween show ("Roses Are Free" from Chocolate and Cheese drew a predictably frenzied response). Still, plenty of glaring omissions marked the song roster from the first of three shows, an indication that Friday and Saturday still hold plenty of commercial favorites and obscure deep album tracks for those planning to attend.
The song selection echoed previous Colorado performances in the past few years, but unlike Ween's Halloween show at the 1STBANK Center in 2010 and the band's two-show Fillmore stint in 2008, they brought along an opening act. Kid Is Qual's opening set offered some vague echoes of Ween's early, punk-informed material, boasting speedy, 2/4 tempos and dizzying, dense guitar solos from frontman Jonathan Sullivan. Instead of the frenetic Fender work of Dean Ween, however, the trio's most impressive melodic work came on the lead bass of Sullivan, who found a backup in the second bass of Mike Bryant, whose credits include work with Slayer.
With drummer Chris McClish providing the backbeat, the two basses offered a surprising amount of different sound textures, with Bryant playing a more traditional rhythm bass and Sullivan tweaking his instrument's sound with pedals and effects to make it sound like a lead guitar.
For all the novelty of the group's approach, a clear and simple formula emerged early on - speedy, straightforward tempos drove Sullivan's effects-laden lyrics, vocals that dealt mostly with girls, taking it slow with girls, "sexual eruptions" and girls. The schtick wore thin fairly quickly for a crowd that seemed impatient to see the main act. Indeed, chants of "Ween" went up by the second song, and a bearded Ween fan in the front row made comparisons to the voice effects of Zapp and Roger as Kid Is Qual wrapped up its set. Soon after the trio's equipment was cleared, a black curtain fell back on the cartoon image of Boognish - the demon god of Ween mythology - that hung over the back of the stage. Smoke billowed from the wings, and Gene and Dean made their entrance, along with longtime drummer Claude Coleman Jr., bassist Dave Dreiwitz and keyboard player Glenn McClelland.
The set started with "Did You See Me," a measured, slow-tempo song from the 2005 release Shinola Vol. 1, a collection of unreleased studio material. Kicking off the set with a song that leans more toward the self-reflective side of the band's catalogue seemed an odd choice, but it would prove a fitting intro for a set that included plenty of unexpected, off-kilter selections.
In between more familiar audience favorites like "Roses Are Free" and "Mister Richard Smoker," the band threw out more obscure songs from Shinola like "Someday" and "Gabrielle," as well as songs like "Powder Blue" from 1996's 12 Golden Country Classics and "Pumpin' 4 the Man," songs that haven't received the live treatment at the 1STBANK show, the pair of Fillmore performances or the Red Rocks concert the band played with the Meat Puppets in 2009.
Indeed, the selections seemed much more exhaustive, and the explanation has much to do with the vow the band made on their website that these three shows would break the record for the most songs played in a three-concert series. It was a treat for any fan familiar with Ween's back catalogue - hearing "I Saw Gener Crying in His Sleep" and "Tick" recalled a formative era in alternative rock. The time between the recordings and the concert showed more markedly on certain tunes. While songs like "Ice Castles" and "Buckingham Green" have benefited from a regular rotation in the band's live catalogue, "Powder Blue" felt a little rougher. Perhaps it was the fact that Thursday's rendition lacked the full coterie of Nashville studio musicians that made the album version so lush and rich, but the band seemed to show some effort behind pulling such tunes from so far back in the archive.
Still, for the most part, such selections were a treat. "The Stallion Part 2" from Pure Guava sounded more refined and streamlined in a live setting, as did "Captain" from 2003's Quebec. Ween also stayed faithful to their live tradition of unlikely cover songs, offering an animated version of Wing's "Band on the Run."
Coleman took up vocals for a pair of fast-paced, frenetic rock tunes, and Dreiwitz's mic issues were solved in time to provide some backup vocals on "Tried and True." Gene Ween's skill at skipping between cartoonish voices on songs like "The Mollusk" and heartfelt earnestness on tunes like "The Argus" hasn't dimmed, nor has Dean Ween's ability to lash out a forceful, memorable guitar solo. Indeed, his effects and phrasing on "Object" seemed more stirring than on the studio version.
One of the most intriguing moments of the evening came in the final song, an expanded, epic version of the bizarre country ballad "Fluffy" from 12 Golden Country Classics. Dean and Gene shared guitar duty on the tune, a song originally performed in a cartoonish cowboy voice that tells the story of a pet dog who meets an unfortunate fate.
The trademark Ween humor still found a place in the rendition, but the instrumentation and pace took on a more monumental quality, as did the long guitar solo that Dean Ween played as an outro. Watching the Ween brothers stand side-by-side and build from simple D and G chords into an emotive opus was an intimate look into a collaboration that's lasted three decades, one that's evolved from abstract art rock to something more mature and refined.
It's a musical journey that's sure to be spelled out in even more detail in the next two nights.
Personal Bias: Of all the venues I've seen Ween play, the Fillmore feels like the most immediate and intimate, the kind of room that properly sets off the band's live skills. By the Way: Gene Ween's introduction for "Tick": "Back in the days when we'd open for the Dead Kennedys, we'd play this song a lot." Random Detail: The merch table sold limited edition posters with specific artwork for Thursday's show, a souvenir that will be available tomorrow and Saturday. If you want to get your hands on them, better come early - the posters sold out within twenty minutes.
Ween Fillmore Auditorium - 12/29/11 Denver, CO
1. "Did You See Me?" 2. "The Golden Eel" 3. "The Stallion, Pt. 3" 4. "My Own Bare Hands" 5. "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)" 6. "Buckingham Green" 7. "Captain" 8. "Zoloft" 9. "The Mollusk" 10. "Learnin' to Love" 11. "Stroker Ace" 12. "Gabrielle" 13. "Tick" 14. "Object" 15. "Roses Are Free" 16. "Ice Castles" 17. "Final Alarm" 18. "The Argus" 19. "Powder Blue" 20. "Mister Richard Smoker" 21. "Pumpin' 4 the Man" 22. "I Saw Gener Cryin' in His Sleep" 23. "Put the Coke on My Dick" 24. "Shamemaker" 25. "Band on the Run" 26. "Homo Rainbow" 27. "Tried and True" 28. "Someday"
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Encore 1. "Freedom of '76" 2. "Your Party" 3. "Fluffy"