Ween, the experimental rock band formed by fictional brothers Gene and Dean Ween (Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo), may be hard to pin down, but if there’s something everyone can agree on, it’s that they aren’t boring. Case in point: Ween’s recent trainwreck of a show at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Off the bat, it’s not the ideal venue to host the band. It’s a lovely, gilded Theatre, one with fantastic sound. However, the seating arrangement means that it’s hard to mingle with other concertgoers, and even harder to get your dance pants on, which is what you want to do when you’re watching something so infectiously fun as Ween. The crowd itself – a strange mix of rowdy hippies, confused youngsters, drunk stoners, and everyone else caught in between - didn’t seem to be all that hampered by it, though. One thing united them: They were all there because of their love of Ween and the desire to make it a fun night.
The band also seemed to share the same philosophy of fun–or at least they started off that way. Whether they were singing “Tender Situation”, Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down), or “Piss Up a Rope”, it appeared that Gene and Dean were having a great time. Gene, especially. Yes, he seemed a little wobbly, his voice was a bit off on numerous occasions, and his hair was all mad scientist-y, but I attributed that to being part of the experience. It was my first time seeing Ween live, and it didn’t seem all that out of place. Even when Gene laid down on his back during “Mutilated Lips”, smoking a cigarette, I thought it was a rockstar move. This dude doesn’t even have to stand up to entertain us.
A rambunctious, borderline absurd cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was a definite highlight, as was another cover, Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”, which the band blitzed through with bassist Dave Dreiwitz on vocals. “Reggaejunkiejew” also took on a life of its own, evolving into a bizarre, 20-minute long jam session, with Gene going off stage for most of it. His absence was quickly covered by an overeager fan who jumped on stage and proceeded to dance all hippy-dippy style between Dean and Dreiwitz.
Deaner performed brilliantly, and his chops on the guitar never failed him. Even with a cigarette sticking out of his guitar frets, he blew the roof off of the Theatre with his quick fingers and insane ability to just wail the shit out of anything. But Gene’s playing was decidedly more sloppy (he also couldn’t seem to figure out out how to tune his guitar), obviously hampered by the fact that he was drunk out of his gourd, which was less than desirable.
Apparently the band felt this way, too. One by the one, the band members just sort of packed up and left after “I Don’t Want It”, leaving Gene on stage alone. He went into a cover of “Kansas City Star”, and then the somewhat sweet “Sarah”, which had brought the crowd’s waving lighters out. But when he asked the band to come out and join him for “Don’t Sweat It”, he was met with awkward silence. The band wasn’t coming back, and Gene had to perform the song all on his own. To say it was uncomfortable would be putting it mildly.
It was at this point that I noticed a lot of people leaving, shaking their heads and muttering “what happened?” Most fans, though, wanted to stick it out till the bitter end, but sadly that actually was the end. After Gene left, the audience waited with baited breath for him and the rest of the band to come back out and perform an encore. But after five minutes of anxious murmuring, the house lights went on and Ween fans were left in a state of confusion.
I heard a lot of conflicting remarks from people afterward as we all shuffled out of the Theatre. On one hand, the band had not only played a lot of rare cuts and b-sides, they had played for nearly two and a half hours, so fans had to be pretty happy about that.
On the other hand, some were worried that it didn’t bode well for the future of Ween, considering the band had actually abandoned Gene on stage. And it is hard to remember the better, earlier parts of a set when it goes out with a sad, delirious whimper.
Looking back, this reviewer had a good time and was thoroughly entertained by Ween’s dynamic music, if not the on-stage antics. The night was many different things, but at least boring wasn’t one of them. Whether the show will have any impact on Ween’s future tour dates, though, remains to be seen. Hopefully this is just one little hiccup in the band’s legacy.
Whoa, bud! Banzai pipeline!
Gallery by Karina Halle