I don’t think that I will ever forget the first time that I listened to the band WEEN. I was in the back of a white 1980 Datsun 210 sedan with soft light blue interior. I had recently ingested a plus-size hooker’s corpse-load of cubensis and, being inexperienced at the time, I was downing fistfuls of them like I was going head to head with Takeru Kobayashi at the Nathan’s on Coney Island. Someone popped in a cd of Pure Guava and I was mesmerized. Something about the sound spoke to me by emmiting 2 different, almost contradictory, vibes (sorry for lack of a better word but my mind had sizzling pop-rocks in it). Part of the feeling that album seemed to give off said, “We love what we are doing, we care about this music, this is how we make our art, and we are giving it every thing we have!” while the rest of it said to me, “Bloody cock! We don’t even shit a fuck! Lets steal your dad’s porn, drink his booze, tape ourselves rocking, and then set a golfcart on fire and push it into the country club lake” and “Hey! Did you find my tape in my room?! Turn it off and give it back, dick!” Like I said, it spoke volumes to my teenage ears and its message was delivered with the fury of a taco truck burrito.
The first time that I ever saw WEEN was in 2000 at the Showbox in Seattle. I was tired of people flaking out at the last minute so I took a 4 hr bus ride from Olympia to get to the show by myself. I was trying to “miracle” a free kick down ticket from someone outside but, at first, all that I got was a Big Gulp full of Bourbon and Pepsi and a “Good Luck” here and there. I finally got a ticket and, as I watched the show, I had to avoid slipping on the Heineken bottles strewn across the venue floor. The show was amazing and bizarre. Some drunk broad hopped on stage and Gene waved security away to let her sing with them and, when they played Baby Bitch, sorority girls were singing along to lyrics like “Fuck you, you stinkin’ ass ho” while swaying their heads side to side with their eyes closed like it was one of Michael Bolton’s “greatest hits“.
Ween is currently touring for their latest release La Cucaracha (Rounder/Chocodog) and I was able to catch their most recent show in Seattle and to have a copy of the album sent to me to peep out for a review. I have a quite a few opinions about each.
The Album (La Cucaracha)
Earlier this year, before the release of the full-length, WEEN released The Friends EP as a 5-song little snack treat to tide fans over. The EP contained the electro punk I Got to Put the Hammer down, the dub inspired King Billy, and a Cubano lounge style cut called Light Me Up. These tracks were sandwiched between the title track and Slow Down Boy. The latter has the sound of an 80’s pop ballad in the same vein as the Spandau Ballet “classic” True except that the lyrics seem to imply that it’s about men giving eachother romantic blowjobs. Actually, when I think about it, Spandau Ballet’s sound didn’t really imply any thing all too different. The song Friends itself would fit right at home at any gay discotheque and could easily have been sung by a 90’s Cher, complete with a vocoder and mesh clad vogue enthusiasts on the dancefloor. Knowing that Friends would appear on La Cucaracha, although remixed, was confusing. I wondered if this was supposed to be a sample of what was to come and if so, I still didn’t have a clue of what that even meant.
La Cucaracha kicks of with an upbeat Mariachi instrumental called Fiesta which works as just another opportunity to show off WEEN’s abilitly to cross genre’s seamlessly. The next song Blue Baloon has a slow groove that sounds like Phish’s mediocre slowjam Meatstick but with a little controlled synthetic horn, blowing wind, and/or echoes coming in here and there. It even has a chorus that sounds a little bit like the Beatles. Next is the Friends alternate mix and I have to say that I think I like this version better. It would be almost impossible to get away from that discotheque flavor but they do pull back on that Happy Hardcore beat a tad, making it more “listenable”. They also add an aquatic/electric washboard rythm under it that’s similar to that of one of their more recognizable and accessable singles Voodoo Lady. This is only the first 3 out of 13 songs and already this album is all over the place. It’s pretty clear that, if you plan to pin down where the rest of it is going, you would have better luck finding Carmen San Diego in a Waldo book with a decoder ring.
As the music styles fluctuate so does Aaron “Dene Ween” Freeman’s voice. On the next song, Object, his voice often has a Roy Orbison tone to it and contains lyrics like “You’re just a piece of meat, and I am a butcher“. This is La Cucaracha’s anti-ballad which WEEN is often known to throw on their albums. It’s a good effort and a solid track but the album starts to feel a little bit like a sampler at this point because, although it varies a great deal from track to track, I’m starting to see their classic formulas shine through a bit too much and it begins to clash with the spontaneity.
Learning to Love is a return to the backwoods sound of the 12 Golden Country Greats album and My Own Bare Hands is one of their raw, balls out, profane rock songs with distortion and a banshee screeching guitar solo. In the barista business its what we call “Not Cafe Apropriate“. The Fruit Man has the fake brothers fucking around in the reggae field once again and is packed with dub echo effects while the new agey Spirit Walker sounds at times like it could close out the credits of The Last Unicorn. The best part of Spirit Walker, as is true with much of the album, is it’s interlude. It cuts into a dark spooky psychedelic segment dead in the middle and then pulls back out into the sound of chimes and whimsy.
The idea of the breakdowns and changes being the strongest parts of these songs also rings especially true on Shamemaker which is a blatant assault on the shitty, whiney ass pop-punk sound that people… I don’t know …enjoy? Somebody likes these audio travesties because I’ve seen the type of shit that Travis Barker has been able to purchase with his Blink 182 money. Ween has the ability to emulate shit and make it sound a lot better than the genres that they are taking shots at, but at times you have to wonder, “Am I mocking the shit I hate by listening to these songs or am I just hurting myself “.
Sweetheart in the Summer and Lullaby are come next and they are both pretty good tracks. Sweetheart has a classic guitar sound with vocals that shift from Rubber Soul harmonies in the intro into doo-wop style backing vocals. At times it’s a little 70’s rock with even glimpses of light disco and Steely Dan. I like the next song, Lullaby, and feel that it works, although it is sappy as hell in a Barbara Streisand sort of way, but I think last two songs are brilliant. Woman and Man starts off with scattered hand drums and tamborine and adds a gloomy Mexican guitar, much like Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang only more sparse. The vocals speak of Creationism with the feel of a beatnik nightclub as chimes and flute enter in. Everything else fades out as the congos go into a solid driving rythm just before a strong guitar riff blasts the song into a psychedelic early 70’s rock frenzy as if it was written by Atomic Rooster. At the end of the epic 10 minutes and 48 seconds, the sound of waves come rushing in. This is followed by the military assault of machine guns and a woman who could either be getting attacked or climaxing. Then comes the chatter of a social gathering which melds smoothly into the last track Party. This final cut is keybump sultry. It is all about a high class dinner party with other couples and has the perfect David Sanborn saxaphone solo. I don’t mean that it sounds like David Sanborn, I mean that it actually is David Sanborn on the fucking album. Dean claims that the band had vowed to never use horns on any of their albums unless they “...could get David Sanborn to play some sexy saxophone“.
It’s hard to review an album like this for me. I can try and disregard Ween’s previous efforts and review it for what it is without expectations or comparisons but I don’t think that I could really ever do that completely. Truth be told, when I first heard it I was psyched but then I heard it again and wasn’t so much. Overall, the only way to review something that varies to this degree is to break it apart but, believe it or not, it actually works better as a whole and flows more consistently than you would expect. This means that the only way to enjoy it is to just listen to it straight through a few times and its no choppier than an album such as Abbey Road. I was told that La Cucaracha is actually the result of a multitude of tracks which were recorded and then later scaled down. If that’s true, they seem to have picked songs based on the fact that they provided a variety but, to do that, you have to sacrifice some consistency. I know that I was happy the first time I heard the album, through the 2 day live stream on the Ween myspace page, for one obvious reason: anything that Ween puts out is bound to be better than 80% of all other shit being produced right now. I, of course, was hoping for that next Pure Guava or Chocolate and Cheese and this is not it, but I think that if you love Ween then you will probably enjoy this album. When The Mollusk came out a friend of mine let me have her copy because she was dissapointed. Now we both love it and appreciate the departure that they took at that time. In a year from now you will probably be hoping to hear many of these tracks live when you attend a show and will be excited when you do hear them. When the group reportedly huffed 5 cans of Scotchguard and made The Pod on a 4-track in a shack located in a field, it was a different time and was bound to have the consistency of inhalants and limited technology. The more options that are made available to them now provide them with more opportunities to try new shit and find to methods to deliver and reinvent formats that they have used in the past. Those are definitely things that they experiment with at this point and, for better or worse, at least they are still trying new shit.
Nov. 13th 2007
The Paramount Theater, Seattle, Wa
While attempting to obtain a pair of passes to the show I had to first email the promoter, Monqui Presents. It was like de ja vu. I had tried to work this same angle about 4 years ago for a previous Ween performance but had hit a dead end. For this one, I had already tried to email them twice and, being that the show was coming up in just a few days, I gave it one more try. Eventually my email was forwarded and shot around until I recieved an email from Ween’s Manager Greg Frey, who had also done some engineering for the Friends Ep. I was told by him that I would be put on the list for two tickets and a photo pass.
I arrived to the Paramount Theater with hopes of getting some of those sweet up close Rock Photo shots, but when I got to the Will-Call there was no photo pass. I was informed that since anyone and everyone would be allowed to take photos for the event, I wouldn’t be needing one. The fuck I didn’t. It’s cool for everyone else but I’m only about 5’8″, ever since I fucked up my neck jumping from that moving car when I was 15, and It was difficult as hell to get a nice photo through the couple hundred some odd skulls on the main floor.
I believe that I missed the first two songs. I walked in during Transdermal Celebration and the stage had a giant version of Ween’s Boognish logo as a backdrop. The tickets said 8pm and, surprisingly enough, these fools actually started AT 8pm. I started trying to rifle off some shots but I didn’t want to be that dick who works his way through the crowd with a camera bag knocking people in the head and they wouldn’t let me over the fence. For the rest of the night I would be told that I couldn’t take photos, then I would be escorted to a higher up who would tell me that it was fine, until some dipshit would start the cycle all over again.
My main goal for this show was obviously to see how good it would be and if they could still rock like they’ve been hitting the loop sticks. I’ve seen them quite a few times over the last few years and I had never seen a bad show. I’ve seen good shows, better shows, and shows that I can’t remember, but one thing that you can count on is hearing a variety of songs from their extensive repertoire.
The first show I saw was in a much smaller venue but they had still gone all out like it was a stadium show. Bassist Dave Dreiwitz came out looking like Larry Fine doing a solo with clouds of demonic smoke blowing all around him on the tiny stage. In the much larger Paramount, the lighting and stage effects were still fierce and big enough to project the performance amicably across the the venue.
After Phish starting covering the song Roses Are Free during their live sets, Ween shows became noticibly more packed and they sell out a lot faster. It was hard not to run into lot kids every where that I turned. For you that are not in the know, specimans can often be identified by their oversized skate hoodies and crystal wraps. In 2000 I was in the lot at Shoreline Ampitheater in Mountain View, Ca for the last 2 Phish shows before their hiatus. There was one guy selling a shitty bootleg Roses Are Free shirt with the Cat in the Hat on it. My friend KB and I walked up to him and KB asked him, “Is this a Phish shirt or a Ween shirt“. The guy responded, “It’s a Phish shirt, see?“. He turned it over to show that it said “Summer Tour 2000“. Obviously that ignorant bastard wasn’t aware that Ween had done a summer tour that year as well. I heard that during their performance at the first Bonnaroo music festival Ween actually came out and said something to the effect of, “This is a Phish Song” before performing their own track. So you get all types and I choose to believe that many of the newer fans did became aware of Ween due to the incredible musicianship they have to offer. Plus, you can’t really fairly attack anyone simply based on an increase in popularity. From what I’ve recently witnessed, Ween is still doing things the way they have always done them, and that is by going hard and without apologies.
Although, over the years, the crowd that Ween draws seems to increase exponentially, they still play for their die-hard fans. A few years ago they made sure to squeeze a free show into their tour at Neumos, a much smaller venue in Seattle. Like the first time when I saw them and they performed Awesome Sound, Ween still busts out all of the old cuts you know and love. You know, the ones that you hear on an album but would never expect to ever hear live? Well, they still play those every single time. This time they played Touch My Tooter, Mr. Richard Smoker, Waving my Dick in the Wind, and even some other great tracks that didn’t even have to do with cock and/or ass. They, not so secretly, have to get off on forcing catchy homoerotic lyrics from songs like Homo Rainbow out of the voiceboxes of the Monday night football type crowd members, as they do with the misogenystic ballads for their female fans.
Although much of their material contains subversive and comedic content, their musicianship and capability is mindblowing and rivals any rock band out there. That’s right, ANY rock band out there. Whether or not Gene is using his talent at times to mock the styles of other vocalists, he still has a great voice in his own right and it comes through live. His slower songs, coupled with Dean’s guitar heavy power rock material, works to give a balanced and never boring performance. Even though Gene didn’t crack out the nitrus hit on stage and start speaking in tongues, like when they played Bumbershoot, he’s still always hamming it up and playing towards the the audience. Deaner (Micky Melchiondo) likes to throw down tough, as evident with his side project The MoistBoyz, in which he performs under the name “Mickey Moist“. He tore up solos like speeding tickets with a pack of Marlboro Reds laying next to his barefeet on the stage. They are still incredibly on point live and, much like their recent album, the highlights are always Deaner’s guitar work. He can still rock it up like key of Columbian and break it down like an Ikea endtable. They don’t highlight keyboardist Glenn McClelland like when they first added him a few years ago, but his work, along with Dreiwitz and Claude Coleman’s drumming, makes for much more than just a capable backing force to their sound.
Sure, if you get close it’s clear that Gene has put on weight and that he is getting quite haggard, but these guys are pushing 40, although, based on their energy levels, you would never know it. I was a bit dissapointed that they didn’t play specific songs like Frank, that I wanted to hear, but they played a ton of other shit that I did, like Spinal Meningitis, and even material that I had forgotten that I wanted to hear, like the Mollusk. I missed the beginning and they still played for 3 hrs with unwavering intensity throughout. Sometimes you go see a show and think, “Alright, I loved these guys and I do still, but they are starting to fall off a bit“. Ween is not that band and whatever you may think of them, the music is still, and hopefully always will be, their main focus.