Walking into Mission Ballroom Wednesday night to see the first of Ween’s three Halloween-week shows, I heard an exchange that's fairly common in the Mile High City these days: “You just moved to Denver? I did, too! I fucking love Denver.”
The two transplants then embraced and exchanged stories of recent experiences with “waking up in detox” after binge drinking. Between witnessing that conversation, being right in the middle of multiple fights in front of the stage, and hearing a two-and-a-half-hour set that spanned nearly all of Gene and Dean Ween's thirty-plus years of making music together, I felt as much like I was at a Philadelphia Flyers game as a rock concert.
“Hi, Denver,” Gene said as the band took the Mission stage at 8:30 p.m. “We’re Ween.” The crowd roared.
“Jesus Christ!” he retorted.
After several of Ween’s more rocking songs, Gene shouted, “Fuck, yeah!” — as he's prone to do — and Dean raised both his arms as if he’d just scored on a heavy slap shot.
Denver has long been a hub for fans of Ween, Philadelphia’s ridiculously creative, twisted, talented and sometimes even offensive left-field, major-label ’90s success. In the early aughts, the group became a big festival headliner after Phish began covering “Roses Are Free” and multiplied its following. But Denver’s rabid influx of transplants has made it possible for Ween to sell out multiple nights at venues like 1STBANK Center and now Mission Ballroom. Not that these fans weren’t hard-core; even the youngest seemed to know Ween’s oldest tunes by heart.
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The five-piece Ween — including longtime members Claude Coleman, Jr. on drums, Dave Dreiwitz on bass, and Glenn McClellan on keys along with Gene (formerly Aaron Freeman) and Dean (once Mickey Melchiondo) — dug deep into its catalogue Wednesday night. The group began its set with the first three songs from 2000’s sonically diverse and stunning White Pepper and then threw back to hilarious songs that Gene and Dean wrote just after meeting in a junior-high typing class 35 years ago.
Although Dean — affectionately called “Deaner” by fans (and in a couple of Ween songs) — promised at one point that the group would “do the spooky songs” on Halloween, the Wednesday concert did include a searing breakout of “The Final Alarm,” by far Ween’s most metal composition and one of its least-played obscurities.
The capacity crowd was thrilled by Ween’s career-spanning set, headbanging along to “Awesome Sound,” jigging to a three-song dive into 1996’s Golden Country Greats album, getting down to the dark funk of “Frank,” and shoving each other around as “Take Me Away” and the Thin Lizzy-esque “Gabrielle” hit blazing peaks.
While I was listening to the kid-friendly parts of Chocolate and Cheese, Ween’s 1994 hit, recently in the car with my nine-year-old daughter, she exclaimed, “These songs are all Ween? How can this all be one band?”
Although I’ve been seeing Ween since the days when the band played small clubs and Gene chugged from bottles of Jack Daniel's on stage while surrounded by topless women, I never take the Frank Zappa-like diversity of Gene and Dean’s songbook for granted, either.
As Dean bent notes on his Telecaster and made strained rock faces otherwise only seen on Lars Ulrich in Metallica’s video for “One” and Gene intermittently crooned like Billy Joel, growled like Lemmy and preened like Prince, I marveled at the ambition and talent in Ween just as much as I do at the band's diverse catalogue.
“It’s too much,” Dean said, cracking up when a hard musical turn was obviously ridiculous — though successful.
“It’s totally not too much,” Gene deadpanned.
Not many bands that sell out the Mission Ballroom or anywhere else can play both jazz (“Pandy Fackler”) and instrumental psychedelia (“Ice Castles), or follow a nightmarish metal song with a traditional country tune, but of course the one band that can, and does, is the one that also shouts “Fuck, yeah!” between songs.
“Who’s coming to all the nights?” Dean asked the Denver crowd as the show concluded.
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He jubilantly answered his own question.
“Ween is coming to all the nights!”
Hear Ween and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.