Just in case anyone in the capacity crowd packed into the Fillmore Auditorium on New Year's Eve wasn't paying attention, Dean Ween sketched out the theme of the night after the first song, when the band kicked off the third and final concert of its series in Denver with the frenzied instrumental "Fiesta," from 2007's La Cucaracha, a speedy tune that features a faux trumpet melody spelled out on Glenn McClelland's keyboard and thunderous fills from drummer Claude Coleman Jr. "'Cause it's a party and shit," Dean Ween declared after the tune.
The rest of Ween's 31-song show included plenty of other subtle and outright musical references to the New Year's holiday. The heady "Transdermal Celebration," from quebec, made a nod in its title and lyrics to otherworldly revels. The performance of "Your Party" right before midnight (one of two sole repeats of the entire three-show, ninety-song live suite) was a clear-cut choice for the first party of 2012, as was the cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" that rung out just after the stroke of midnight and followed the release of confetti and balloons emblazoned with the demon god Boognish into the audience.
While Friday's show explored the band's more instrumentally intense and jam-based tunes, Saturday was all about the party. Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) and Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) chose the holiday to most fully explore the tongue-in-cheek quality that's been an integral part of the band's identity since the beginning. Lighthearted and sardonic fare stood out from the beginning: Titles like "Waving My Dick in the Wind," "Push Th' Little Daisies," "Awesome Sound" and "Bananas and Blow" showed up within the first ten songs.
Such platforms gave the Ween brothers the perfect forum to revive the comic element of their early days. Gene Ween was especially animated in his delivery of songs like "Push th' Little Daisies" and "Touch My Tooter," recalling the heady, experimental style he honed so well on the band's early recordings.
Similarly, Dean Ween summoned an earlier incarnation of himself in his delivery of "Doctor Rock," "When the Goin' Gets Tough" and "The HIV Song," puffing out his chest like a peacock and twisting his face in comically exaggerated expressions in a style that recalled the days when he'd wear a silly hat as a matter of course. Melchiondo even picked up the bass for "Don't Laugh (I Love You)," a song that stretches back to the band's freshman album, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness.
The shift toward the more bizarre and crazed end of the Ween spectrum seemed entirely appropriate for the holiday. Even the longer tunes of the concert, the songs like "Reggaejunkiejew" and "I'll Be Your Johnny on the Spot" that included lengthy guitar solos, seemed lighter than the expansive jams of the night before. One of Dean Ween's strongest and most powerful solos came in the middle of "Strap on That Jammy Pac," the opening song from what is arguably the band's most challenging album, The Pod. Hearing a such a tightly phrased and expertly executed solo in the middle of one of the night's most bizarre and abstract selections was a definite treat.
The evening's lighter mood came in part from the band's on-stage antics. At the tail end of "Johnny on the Spot," for example, Gene Ween had failed to return from the sudden exit he made at the beginning of Melchiondo's solo. Casting constant glances to the wings, Melchiondo extended the solo, then extended it again and finally picked up the megaphone and finished up the final verse and chorus. Gene Ween made it back in time to back him up.
At the end of "Reggaejunkiejew," Gene Ween picked up a wooden stool from the wings and set it up at the side of the stage, then clambered on top to dramatically sing the final key phrases of the tune. It was the perfect night for such capers: the final night of 2011 and the final show in the group's record-breaking Denver series.
Midnight arrived as the band wrapped up "Your Party" and quickly shifted into a repeated, two-note riff. "Uh-oh, kids, it's 11:59," Gene Ween announced playfully before confetti blew out of cannons and balloons dropped from the ceiling. "Feels like the Flaming Lips," Dean Ween noted of the bright confetti before thanking the crowd for hosting the band for three nights.
Bowie's "Let's Dance" came next, followed by "Don't Laugh" and a suite of bright, chipper songs, if any songs in Ween's catalogue of twisted themes and politically incorrect imagery can be considered chipper ("Happy New Year, this next song is called 'AIDS'!" Gene Ween gleefully announced before the band broke into "The HIV Song.") Ween usually sticks to a single cover song for every concert, but after "HIV," the pair offered a completely unexpected and unpredictable selection, breaking into a serious, on-target rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio."
Gene Ween nailed the high falsetto of Young's vocals, and the protest tune about police brutality on the Kent State campus didn't lose any of its effect for the fact that it was sandwiched between a carnivalesque riff on disease and an evolved rendition of "Tender Situation," another early Ween song that's benefited from decades of live performances.
After a bare version of "It's Gonna Be a Long Night," from quebec, the band ended with a pair of distortion-laden, hard-driving early songs. "Licking the Palm for Guava" and "Mushroom Festival in Hell" boasted all the best features of early Ween: the raw guitar, the lyrical ridiculousness and the sense of theatricality (Gene Ween collapsed on his back during the outro of "Mushroom Festival").
For the final tune of tits Denver stint, Ween departed a bit from the abstract and bizarre, offering a rendition of "The Blarney Stone." The tribute to raucous drinking songs from the British Isles penned by Freeman and sung by Melchiondo had the whole auditorium raising glasses and fists for the chorus. At the end, Dean Ween seemed exhausted as he made his thanks, in apparent disbelief that the band had pulled off the feat of three nights and ninety songs. Gene Ween's farewell was simpler: "See you next time. Happy New Year."
Click through for Critic's Notebook and full setlist.
Kid is Qual made another somewhat painful appearance as the opening act, drawing outright boos from the crowd thirsty for the main act. The response finally drew an amused reaction from lead bass player Jonathan Sullivan, who offered a simple "Whatever" after explaining that his father was a Green Beret. The majority of the band's set featured the same fast-paced, effects-heavy tunes they'd played on Thursday and Friday.
Personal Bias: The explosive version of "Doctor Rock" felt like a fitting summary of the mood of the night and a nostalgic callback to the brilliance and oddness of The Pod. Random Detail: Gene Ween donned a long-nosed masquerade mask for "Mutilated Lips." By the Way: The final set of collectible posters (this one featuring a temptress in red) sold out even quicker than on previous nights. Even though the band had imposed a two-poster limit for each buyer, the stock was gone in less than ten minutes.
Ween Fillmore Auditorium - 12/31/11 Denver, CO
01. "Fiesta" 02. "Take Me Away" 03. "Transdermal Celebration" 04. "Waving My Dick in the Wind" 05. "Bananas and Blow" 06. "Strap On That Jammy Pac" 07. "Push th' Little Daisies" 08. "Stay Forever" 09. "Awesome Sound" 10. "Mutilated Lips" 11. "Touch My Tooter" 12. "Doctor Rock" 13. "Hey There Fancy Pants" 14. "I'll Be Your Johnny On the Spot" 15. "When the Goin' Gets Tough" 16. "Frank" 17. "Piss Up a Rope" 18. "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain" 19. "Buckingham Green" 20. "Reggaejunkiejew" 21. "Your Party" 22. "Let's Dance" (David Bowie cover) 23. "Don't Laugh (I Love You)" 24. "Polka Dot Tail" 25. "The HIV Song" 26. "Ohio" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover) 27. "Tender Situation"
28. "It's Gonna Be a Long Night" 29. "Licking the Palm for Guava" 30. "Mushroom Festival in Hell" 4. "The Blarney Stone"
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