If you consider yourself an avid fan of the New Hope, Pennsylvania 5-piece known as WEEN, then chances are that you have already heard something about their recent, and now infamous, performance at Vancouver, BC’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Monday Jan. 24th. The moment the show let out, tales of Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman being “too fucked up” and/or losing his shit began to weigh down the WEEN forum and flood their official Facebook page. It’s been described with such terms as “meltdown” and “collapse“. There are mixed feelings about what occurred that night. Some people were pissed off, while others have stated that they had a great time, but very few would disagree that some sort of spectacle took place. Claims came in about how the frontman had problems with tuning, or rather constantly re-tuning, his guitar throughout the evening. Random audience footage taken from the back of the crowd appeared to display Freeman laying on his back, at some point, and kicking his legs in the air. I read a lot of comments regarding the show taking a downhill plunge around the song “ReggaeJunkieJew“. One of the first things to be consistently confirmed was that, for the last half hour or so, Gener was on stage performing solo, after his frustrated cohorts eventually had enough and left him out there to fend for himself. The screwy part is that, if all of this was true, the band had still performed a full 20 songs before they began to walk off the stage and “ReggaeJunkieJew” was already the 17th track on the setlist. From then on, Gene took on 5 songs all by, or mostly all by, himself. I don’t hear of too many bands knocking out that much material, even on their best nights. So what the fuck is the problem, really? Are the WEEN “fans” that attended the Vancouver show too whiny? The band did leave him out there all alone; was it really that big of a irreparable disaster? Has this group grown so large over the past decade that too many of the folks that go to their shows these days don’t really even “get it”? It was just a fucking concert, so does it really even matter? One thing’s for sure, those of us who weren’t in attendance can’t very well rely on the opinions of those staining the internet with their opinions. Fortunately for us, someone had enough sense to record some up-close footage of the entire evening and afford us the ability to make our own assessments. Hopefully, after this, everyone can move on and finally leave all of the excessive complaints, reiterations, and drama behind them.
We had already heard warnings about the possibility for this tour to encounter some shaky moments. Two years ago, there was a lot of concerns about Gene putting on too much weight, but, since their Halloween show in Denver, all that I’ve heard about was how he has lost way too much of it in way too little time. Is he puffing a ton of rock or shooting up smack? Who knows, but, whether or not Freeman is actually suffering from a severe addiction right now doesn’t seem to compare to the addictions that people have for speculating about it.
That last tweet about being in rm “911” provides the number for the Paramount Hotel in Seattle and was posted just one day prior to the Vancouver performance. As of yesterday, Freeman‘s Twitter account has been disabled, along with his Facebook page. My guess would be that this is most likely due to getting an influx of messages and comments from people who feel like they have the right to contact him directly and go off about their personal feelings regarding his show in Vancouver. If that’s true, I don’t blame him in the slightest for closing down those accounts. After that Vancouver kick off date, WEEN went on to complete the rest of their West Coast tour with one impressive performance after the other, proving that any assumptions that the BC show may have marked “the end of WEEN” were made ridiculously premature. So why are some people still using the WEEN Facebook page and other forums to rant about a show that happened a week ago? Even after demonstrating, show after show, that they had pulled it together and that Vancouver was a one-off mishap, at worst, people continued to warn and beg Gener to get his “shit together” and not “fuck up” the shows each night in their respective city. There were a handful of comments embracing the group and showing genuine concern for Freeman‘s well-being, but the overwhelming, lop-sided majority seemed to come from tactless concert goers publicly casting stones and demanding refunds. Obviously, the best way to get an actual refund isn’t through foul complaints on a Facebook wall, but… social networking is really more about chiming in, forcing others to read your opinions, and instigating conflict anyway.
One of the most ridiculously misguided comments that I read came from a posting on the WEEN forum with the heading “i walked out of a ween show“.
“i fell to a puddle of tears on the stairs in the lobby of the queen e theatre. i still cant believe it. how could they do this to me. i always stuck up for this band, gene just was totally loaded. im so heart broken. how could they do this to me?…“
The Facebook wall contained a handful of other statements, regarding people being disappointed after taking their young teenage children to their first show, only to have them witness what they considered to be a musical trainwreck. Personally, I don’t fucking get it. It’s not like these people were attending a Backstreet Boys performance; it’s a WEEN show goddammit! For anyone that believes that I am only being so cavalier about my views, because I wasn’t one of the people who “lost” money on the show, I think we should really breakdown what these people are really saying and what they are really complaining about.
“I took my 14 year old daughter to see a show by MY favorite band, hoping that they’d play classic tunes like ‘Let Me Lick Your Pussy,’ ‘Flies on My Dick,’ ‘She Fucks Me‘, The H.I.V. Song,’ and ‘Touch My Tooter‘ but they were so unprofessional! Now I’m gonna have to take my kids to see a band that they actually wanted to see to make up for this!“
“Im not some fly-by-night fan! I’ve loved WEEN ever since they created that lo-fi 4-track album where they huffed a rape-load of scotch guard and recorded fabricated reennactments of themselves ordering food at a taqueria. I can’t believe that Gener got so fucking high and ruined everything! And the worst part is, they didn’t even play ‘Zoloft,’ or ‘Put the Coke on My Dick‘!“
Yeah, it’s all a bit ridiculous, but, like I said, you can make your own determinations. Some sketchy footage from the show was uploaded to the web immediately, but it wasn’t until the last couple of days that some higher quality and more revealing video began rolling in. Someone going by the user name “lickingthepalm4guava” (a song title from the album GodWeenSatan: The Oneness) has uploaded the entire performance and seems to have created the Youtube account strictly for that purpose. In fact, the backdrop image of their personal Youtube channel is a copy of the Vancouver concert poster by Jermaine Rogers.
I’ve watched the footage and, although there are plenty of moments where Gener‘s “condition” is affecting the performance, I feel that the story that everyone was able to take away from the show, had to have been worth the admission price. Hell, I’m watching it without being “forced” to sit through anything and I’m sure that it will be getting plenty of views. If you do feel that you are entitled to a refund, however, that is also understandable, but you should probably be directing those requests to the venue and/or management, instead of trying to convince those who aren’t super pissed off about the show that they should be. For everyone who still wants to see what really went down, we’ve posted video and a breakdown from some of the key moments below. To watch the footage in it’s entirety, visit lickingthepalm4guava‘s Youtube channel HERE.
The first clip is from the very beginning of the show, during the lead off track “Fiesta“. Before they begin you will hear Freeman address the audience by letting them know that it will be a “very special show tonight.” Besides the cryptic foreshadowing, this clip is also important because it addresses the contradictory statements about WEEN making it through 2 solid hours before any problems arose, versus the claims that the whole entire show was trash. Most people still seem to believe that the rest of the band was on point throughout, but this footage does clearly show that Gene was having a bit of difficulty playing the tambourine at the jump off. Furthermore, if Freeman‘s abilities were primarily impaired by some form of hard drug like cocaine or heroin, it doesn’t seem to coincide with the idea that his full-on descension didn’t really kick in until about 2 hrs deep into the set. As you will soon see, the culprit looks as if it could possibly be something hallucinogenic, from the beginning, and a lot more like something hallucinogenic, as the show continues.
This track was followed up with a 7 plus minute version of “Take Me Away“, with jams that seemed so trippy that they were beginning to suck the singer in with them. During that song the vocals are often inaudible and you can hear someone next to the camera screaming, “Gener! I can’t hear you!” They run through “Mr. Richard Smoker” and “Transdermal Celebration“, with Gene showing some signs of disorientation. However, as they follow it up with “Mister Will You Please Help My Pony?” and especially, “Gabrielle“, he seems to really be finding his footing. Plus, as usual, Dean is tearing the shit out of his solos. Gene doesn’t pick up a guitar until the next song, “Piss Up A Rope“, where he’s still tuning it after the song’s already begun. He mostly just holds it, while singing, and only employs very minimal and occasional strumming. When it ends, he immediately begins playing “Tender Situation” and it actually turns out really great, with Gene pulling off some solid guitar work of his own. When they do “Learning to Live” next, problems start to become a little more obvious. Once the song ends and the music starts, Freeman continues to slur out one more final verse, unaccompanied by any music. For “Bananas and Blow” he squeaks in late with a couple of off guitar notes, eventually returning the majority of focus towards the vocals. Again Deaner pulls the song together with more tricky guitar work. “Buckingham Green” goes over really nicely and sounds beautiful. Glenn‘s electronics and keyboard work are right on and Claude continues to beat the shit out of his kit, as he has been doing throughout.
So… up until this point, some songs have worked better than others, which is to be expected. The difference from any other show is that if it’s a song that really sucks Gener in, he appears to give it everything he’s got and, if not, they seem a little more difficult than usual for him to line himself up with. All in all, I still would have went to this show happily and, even if Freeman wasn’t consistently at the top of his game, there are still some great moments. But, the real reason for this post is to damper the speculation and to show the footage relating to what all of the commotion has been about.
Gener‘s facial expressions and vocal delivery are always a little exaggerated, but I’ve never seen him sit down on the stage like he does in the following video of “Mutilated Lips“. Here’s when things really seem to take a turn for the weird.
While Gene retunes his guitar, yet again, Mickey (Dean Ween) quickly organizes the rest of the group into performing his track “My Own Bare Hands“. Although Gene didn’t really play his guitar during the song, he starts the next one off by tuning it all over again. He walks around the stage a bit and doesn’t start singing the lyrics for “Spinal Meningitis” until almost 2 minutes into the set up. It’s hard to argue that there weren’t issues with this one falling apart. Cues are missed, Claude drops a stick, etc. In all honesty, I’m not completely convinced that they aren’t all a little wasted. The main questions are about to what degree and how well they can still perform, individually, while fucked up. After all, being in the backdrop makes things a little more forgiving than standing center stage with a spotlight in your face.
“Your Party” goes well enough. “Let’s Dance” is quite a bit more rough. As many have stated, the real shit starts going down when they try to play “ReggaeJunkieJew“. Gener really begins to trip himself out during this one and, at about the 5:25 mark, you’ll notice that he begins holding the megaphone on the top of his head and letting its siren squeal like a goddam banshee. At approx. the 7:20 mark, you’ll see that he’s wandered over to Glenn and mesmerized himself with the keyboard setup. At about 9:05, someone from the audience jumps up and does a synchronized stretch with Gener on stage, before being removed so some wack chick can hop up there and work her rainbow gathering bullshit dance moves in his place.
Ok, so a couple of comments here. The first is that this is only the first half of the “ReggaeJunkieJew” video, because it’s just that long. The other thing to acknowledge is that this is not only the spot in the show where things officially start to take a turn, but also the part where I believe that interpretations of the events actually begin to split, depending on who you talk to. I know that for a lot of people this clip signifies disaster and a collapse of the whole performance, but for someone like me, it’s actually some of the greatest shit ever. You can tell that the the band members are really engaged in what they are doing and the song sounds funky as all get out. Regardless of how “wasted,” “lit up,” or “faded” Freeman may or may not be in this clip, he is definitely investing all of him self into the performance and, that alone, would have made this show for me. Those who are furious about it, might need to take a step back and acknowledge that this is actually a pretty amazing and genuine moment.
The second half of this video does start to signify that a certain amount of control has been lost, however, as Gener walks off and some audience jerkoff manages to dance on stage for a full minute and a half before being removed by anybody. Even so, the jam continues to veer out into funked-out Stevie Wonder-style squawks and psychedelic whirlpools.
This next video, which immediately follows the last song in the set, features the portion of the show where Gener is laying on his back. I’m pretty sure that the Carpenters never expected their classic “Superstar” to be given this sort of treatment. Instead of singing the lyrics, it’s clear that Aaron is still stuck in the previous song, as he screams out “You fucking jew!” more than once throughout it. The song ends at around the 5 minute mark, after which you can distinctly hear Freeman say, “Sorry if your panties are in a bunch.”
After a version of “Freedom of 76“, where Gene can’t quite manage to hit his usual range, the band decides to temporarily hand the vocal duties over to bassist, Dave Dreiwitz for a cover of Motorhead‘s “Ace of Spades“. You’ll see Freeman messing around with his tuner again and then, at the 2:18 mark he yells “Hey!” into the mic, trying to get his bandmates’ attention.
When the music stops, Gene starts playing “Birthday Boy” by himself on the guitar. The band hasn’t quite left at this point, and you will see Dean wandering around in the wings. Glenn and Claude also switch positions with each other on the keys and drum kit set up, respectively. They might have been burnt by then, and I don’t doubt that the show may have been a bit of a struggle for everyone, but, in my opinion, Gener‘s “Birthday Boy” actually sounds pretty good. Anyone that thinks that the song sounds like a complete disaster should probably go back and listen to the album to hear what the original sounded like, in the first place. What may have thrown a few people off, the band included, is that the song is usually performed acoustic and Gener went right at it with a distorted guitar and no hesitation, creating something much closer to the sound on GodWeenSatan.
The band was entirely offstage, while he played “I Don’t Want It” and “Sarah“. This is the point where it seems like the idea of something can actually hold more power than the reality of it, if you allow that to be the case. I think that both of the songs sounded really good and, regardless of any other possible circumstances, Freeman is clearly pouring his heart out in these performances. The general consensus is that the band is supposed to be pissed at him. Maybe they are, or maybe they are just burnt out and needed to get off the stage. The story also goes that the majority of the audience was shocked and appalled by his behavior. Maybe that’s true too, but they don’t sound that way on the video. One thing is for sure, though; at the end of “Sarah“, Gene looks behind him and asks the question, “Where’s the band?” and then says, “The band just left.” He has a smile on his face.
He plays a quick minute and a half version of the Roger Miller classic “Kansas City Star” and then finishes the show off with what is probably the most aptly titled track of the evening, “Don’t Sweat it“. Before the closer he says, “Alright, I’m gonna hope that the band returns for this song.” They don’t. Then he confesses, “So, I think I wrote this song after 2 weeks on mushrooms.” He seems totally cognitive and aware during the song. Then he puts his guitar down gently, and says, “Thanks Vancouver“, before leaving the stage. There is no encore.
WEEN has always been a group that isn’t afraid to take chances and who knows if Aaron got intentionally spun for the show or if he just pushed it a little overboard? Personally, I would have been more than happy to experience this shit live. If he is in some sort of actual spiral, we wish him the best, but I hardly think that he is deserving of the type of bullshit that people have been spewing at him and about him, pertaining to this Queen Elizabeth set. The performance wobbles at some points, but the risk definitely pays off at others. There are some truly wonderful and even intimate moments in there. It just goes to show how different people can witness the exact same circumstances and have completely different reactions towards it. I love Gener‘s solo section at the end, while others cite that as the most pathetic and disasterous portion of the night. If you truly want your money back, I think that you should go ahead and try to get it, but I also think that you should reassess your expectations out of concerts and, after that, you’re gonna have to put the brakes on all of the goddamn complaining. People regularly pay a lot more to see shows that are a lot less real and a hell of a lot worse. Overall, this one appears to be definitely worth the ticket price. As for the far more important issues/questions surrounding Aaron‘s health, that remains to be seen. If the performances from the rest of the tour are any indication, things for him are hopefully heading in the right direction.