There was no ambitious declaration or plan of attack from the Ween brothers as they launched into their nearly three-hour long set on Friday night for the second show of their three-night stand at the Fillmore. Unlike Thursday's show, which included early hints from Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) and Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) that the live series in Denver would set the band's all-time record for most amount of songs played in three nights, Friday's concert seemed all about showing rather than telling.
Just as they had on Thursday night, the crowd got vocal as soon as the crowd was pulled back on the image of Ween's mascot, the demon god Boognish. Where Ween had opened Thursday with the more measured and psychedelic structure of "Did You See Me," the band kicked off the second show with "Exactly Where I'm At" from White Pepper, a fitting concert opening for its plodding opening drum beat and its declarative, purposeful lyrics from Gene Ween.
Things soon took a more extended and instrumental turn. After the cheery and folksy performance of "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree," the band launched into "Happy Colored Marbles," a darker and more ominous selection from 2003's quebec that includes long stretches of distortion laden guitar lines between lines filled with ennui. Tunes like "The Grobe" and "I Don't Want It" lent for similar show of soloing skill from the Ween brothers, as did the epic performance of "Woman and Man," "Pandy Fackler" and even a liberal interpretation of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."
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While Ween's set on Friday featured fewer songs (28 as opposed to 31), this set outlasted the first show, stretching nearly three hours. In lieu of shorter tunes, casual cover songs and more dynamic crowd pleasers, the second show featured more extended jam-based songs, numbers that saw extended solos from Dean Ween, as well as keyboardist Glen McClelland and drummer Claude Coleman.
As usual, "Woman and Man" from 2007's La Cucaracha featured an extended Dean Ween solo; the older song "Never Squeal," from the band's freshman release, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, included a lengthy drum solo from Coleman that saw the drummer taking an impressive solo with his bare hands; the scatological tale told in the tune "Paddy Fackler," from the more polished White Pepper album, included a jazzy, then abstract keyboard solo from McClelland.
While the set also saw the performance of shorter songs and fan favorites like "Ocean Man" and "Baby Bitch," such instrumental flights gave band's second night in Denver an entirely different feel from its first. That sense of distinctness also came from an acoustic set from Freeman and Melchiondo -- it also came in large part from the impressive fact that the band refrained from repeating even a single song from its first appearance.
And there were also lighter moments amid the show's more jam-oriented stretches. During an energetic performance of the crowd favorite "Voodoo Lady," Gene Ween broke into the chorus from Prince's "Kiss" without breaking a sweat -- the sultry suggestiveness of the words and the funky structure of the song found a graceful spot right after the guitar solo in "Voodoo Lady."
Early into the set, Gene Ween picked up his Martin acoustic and Dean hoisted a Gibson emblazoned with the image of Boognish set behind a sunburst. With the rhythm section maintaining their regular duties, the band launched into acoustic versions of songs like "Joppa Road" from Chocolate and Cheese and "Flutes of the Chi" from White Pepper.
The acoustic rendition of "Drifter in the Dark" provided one of the evening's most fun moments, as Melchiondo and Freeman morphed the song from Chocolate and Cheese into a honky tonk cowboy ballad, a loping tune complete with a Gene Ween harmonica solo that inspired most of the audience to sing along.
Still, it was hard to ignore the more expansive, more focused feel of the evening's longer, instrumental numbers. Dean Ween's speedy solos seemed to find more feeling and direction on Friday night -- even his frenetic solo during the brief, punk-inspired rocker "You Fucked Up" took on a sense of urgency. For his part, Gene Ween had moments of instrumental depth, taking the solo for "I Don't Want It" and offering one of the highlights of the evening.
Those more serious musical stretches found a nice balance in early songs like "Sketches of Winkle" and "Big Jilm," but even the selections from the rawer era of the band's catalogue seemed expanded. There was Coleman's hand drum solo on the formerly simplistic "Never Squeal." The song "I Can't Put My Finger On It" performed during the encore took the dynamic of the live version from Paintin' the Town Brown -- over an instrumental intro that was downright Middle Eastern, Gene Ween sang wordless, emotive vocals worthy of a mullah calling the faithful to prayer. While the set ended with the straightforward songs "Captain Fantasy" and a stirring rendition of "Baby Bitch," those extended stretches were impossible to forget.
It seemed as if Ween chose the second night of its three-night stretch to flex its improvisational and instrumental muscles, to revel in the jam side of its live identity that's developed more fully in the past decade. With one night to go, the set left unanswered questions: Will New Year's Eve feature similar forays into the abstract? Will the final night of their ambitious Denver series veer from any repetition, as Friday night's show did? How deep will they dig into their catalogue to keep the stretch of concerts distinct and fresh?
It should be fun to find the answers on the last night of 2011.
Click through for Critic's Notebook and full setlist.
The trio Kid Is Qual made another appearance as the opening act last night, offering the same brand of progressive club beats from drummer Chris McClish and novel bass and voice effects from frontman Jonathan Sullivan and second bassist Mike Bryant. Again, the trio's simplistic and straightforward act didn't do much to satisfy the die-hard Ween fanatic crowd, who would have likely seemed impatient for any opening act. Apart from occasional heckles comparing the band's lead singer to T-Pain, however, the audience was respectful of the opening set, offering polite applause and a show of participation driven by the two-bassists' formula of short tunes and danceable riffs.
Personal Bias: Ween's skill for heart-wrenching breakup songs was one of the draws that first made me a fan. Friday's set appealed to that part of me: "Baby Bitch," "You Fucked Up," "Even If You Don't" and "I Don't Want It" are still therapeutic and heart rending, all at once. By the Way: Right before launching into "Ocean Man," Gene Ween mentioned he'd visited the Denver Aquarium. He dug the tigers. Random Detail: The limited edition poster for Friday's show featured a gilded dragon and a crimson sun on an all-black background.
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Ween Fillmore Auditorium - Denver, CO 12/30/11
1. "Exactly Where I'm At" 2. "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree" 3. "Happy Colored Marbles" 4. "The Grobe" 5. "Even If You Don't" 6. "Voodoo Lady" 7. "Back to Basom" 8. "Monique the Freak" 9. "Chocolate Town" 10. "Joppa Road" 11. "Flutes of the Chi" 12. "Drifter in the Dark" 13. "Squelch the Little Weasel" 14. "I Don't Want It" 15. "You Fucked Up" 16. "Dazed and Confused" (Led Zeppelin cover) 17. "Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony" 18. "Woman and Man" 19. "Ocean Man" 20. "Pandy Fackler" 21. "Big Jilm" 22. "Slow Down Boy" 23. "Wayne's Pet Youngin'" 24. "Sketches of Winkle" 25. "Never Squeal"
1. "I Can't Put My Finger On It" 2. "Captain Fantasy" 3. "Baby Bitch"