The scene captured the sheer surrealism of Ween's Halloween show at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield: Toward the end of the band's three-hour performance, Mickey Melchiondo -- aka Dean Ween -- belted out "The Blarney Stone" with gusto, his vocals unencumbered by the massive bunny head sitting atop his shoulders. He adjusted the huge furry headpiece in between singing verses and playing lead guitar; at one point, he commented simply, "Funny bunny."
Between the band's coordinated costumes, the 35-song setlist, the faithful rendition of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and an extended version of the band's lascivious Prince tribute "L.M.L.Y.P." as a finale, the show boasted an epic, ambitious feel. Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) and Dean Ween's onstage antics and prolific song selection lent the show a special signficance; the pageantry and power of it all made the performance seem more noteworthy than other recent Colorado appearances.
Indeed, the Halloween show stood apart from the band's 2009 Red Rocks appearance and the double Fillmore gigs in 2008. Despite some shortcomings in the form of a muddied sound mix, the band successfully used Halloween as an opportunity to push the envelope and explore uncharted performance territory onstage.
The effort started as soon as the five band members walked onstage, each sporting identical bunny outfits. The musicians hammed it up for the crowd, positioning themselves for a five-bunny orgy and waving giant, furred paws at the crowd. The theatrics earned cheers and hoots from the crowd before playing a note.
The band stayed in costume for the opening number, the Mariachi-driven instrumental "Fiesta" from 2007's La Cucaracha, but the massive masks came off as the guys started their ambitious live tour of Ween's massive catalogue. Gene Ween shed the fur and mask to reveal glow-in-the-dark pink hair and a black undersuit; Dean Ween kept on his furry jumpsuit throughout the show, though he didn't opt for shoes.
The performance immediately drew from all eras of the band's past. Songs from early releases like 1990's GodWeenSatan: The Oneness and 1991's The Pod came side-by-side with tunes from La Cucaracha, 1996's 12 Golden Country Greats, 1997's The Mollusk and 2003's Quebec. The band's been focused solely on touring and live performances for more than a year, and the show quickly took on the feel of a retrospective, a live celebration of the band's nearly thirty-year career.
The show also proved to be a showcase of how much even the recent songs have evolved in a live setting. Lengthy intros, extended solos and tweaked rhythms marked songs like "Your Party" and "My Own Bare Hands" from the latest album release. The scope of sounds and styles on display was ambitious, and the house sound system was hit-or-miss. For some of the heavier, distortion-drenched tunes like "Dr. Rock," "My Own Bare Hands" and "Gabrielle," the instruments were blended together in a muddy mix. Glenn McClelland's keyboard lines, Dave Dreiwitz's bass and even some of Gene and Dean's vocals got lost in overpowering guitar tones.
As the show progressed, the crew seemed to fix some of the most glaring sound issues. McClelland's eerie, haunting synth lines on "Buckingham Green," for example, came through evocatively; drummer Claude Coleman was clear in his solo vocals on "Final Alarm." Dean's strength as a powerful, driving soloist was especially striking in songs like "Roses Are Free" and "Reggaejunkiejew."
Sound issues completely evaporated for the most memorable selections of the night, more obscure tunes that didn't make it onto the twenty-song setlist from last year's Red Rocks show. The stirring effect of seeing Gene and Dean play a solo version of "Sarah" from Pure Guava, the crowd participation for the unreleased track "Booze Me Up and Get Me High," the spot-on cover version of David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Dean Ween's stint on drums for "The Mollusk" -- such moments captured Ween's skills in a live setting.
The best musical moments from the band found a complement in a steady stream of theatrics. The band's bunny costumes were just the opening salvo in a steady stream of surrealism, an element that culminated in the final song of the encore. What started as a subtle, funky bass groove and Gene Ween playfully reciting lines from Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" morphed into an especially soulful, syncopated version of "L.M.L.Y.P.," the band's sinful Prince tribute from their debut album.
As the lyrics slowly evolved from sexual suggestion to blunt requests for oral sex, a coterie of costumed females gradually took the stage to dance alongside the musicians. It started with a dancing ballerina and a couple of other costumed female fans, and by the time Dean Ween started a lengthy guitar solo seeped in wah-wah effects, the crowd of girls had tripled. By the time Melchiondo restated the main melody of the tune as an end to his solo, it was nearly impossible to see him through the thicket of dancing female characters. It was an appropriate, bizarre cap for an exhilarating Halloween.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The Ween brothers' stark, understated live versions of "Sarah" and "She Fucks Me" were particularly compelling. Hearing how songs from the early albums have morphed during the decades is always of particular interest for me. Random Detail: Gene Ween tried to keep up the mood of the holiday. He asked Glenn McClellan for a "spooky" keyboard interlude, a prompt that inspired a piano solo that sounded straight out of a French Impressionist composer's handbook. By the Way: The detail of the audience's Halloween costumes was consistently impressive. Japanese cowboys seemed to be the most popular choice, but there were also countless costumes of Boognish, the band's mascot, and a lot of bananas. A particularly creative couple made matching robot outfits, complete with battery-powered blinking lights.
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Ween 10.31.10 | 1STBANK Center Broomfield, CO
1. Fiesta 2. Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy) 3. Touch My Tooter 4. Transdermal Celebration 5. Hey There Fancy Pants 6. Take Me Away 7. Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down) 8. Learnin' To Love 9. Don't Sweat It 10. Voodoo Lady 11. Your Party 12. My Own Bare Hands 13. Happy Colored Marbles 14. Up On the Hill 15. Gabrielle 16. Piss Up a Rope 17. Reggaejunkiejew 18. Let's Dance (David Bowie cover) 19. Buckingham Green 20. Ice Castles 21. Final Alarm 22. Back to Basom 23, Sarah 24. She Fucks Me 25. Bananas and Blow 26. Booze Me Up and Get Me High 27. Push Th' Little Daisies 28. Roses Are Free 29. Piano "Interlude" -- Glenn McClelland 30. The Mollusk 31. Doctor Rock 32. Blarney Stone
33. Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony? 34. Freedom of '76 35. Stroker Ace 36. Pusher Man Intro/LMLYP