GOD + WEEN + SATAN = THE ONENESS: Ween, Tower Theater, Last Night
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER They say actors are the ultimate existential heroes because they get to live multiple lives, while the rest of us have to settle for just one. Similarly, there is something heroic about Ween’s 23-year quest for the ultimate buzz, musical or otherwise, and their Zelig-like ability to utterly inhabit any genre they choose — shit-kicker country, dirtball metal, gold chain disco, hobbit-hole psychedelia, even fern-bar kool jazz — while simultaneously satirizing it for your protection.
The new La Cucaracha, the 11th full-length collection by New Hope’s Dean and Gene Ween, is yet another revolving-genre spin-cycle that includes but is not limited to: Santana-esque prog; faux-sexist redneck-rock; woozy nitrous-soaked pop; Looney Tunes country & western; deep-dish dub reggae; and a couple of baroque-pop charmers.
However, you would be mistaken if you assumed that just because they are funny the duo of Dean and Gene Ween — a.k.a. Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman — are somehow less than serious about their music. “We took a very focused, workman-like approach to this record, which is the way it has to be because we both have kids now,” says Melchiondo (he’s Dean Ween), speaking of their latest, La Cucaracha. “We wrote and demoed 50 songs, whittled it down to 20, took those into the studio and then wound up picking 13 for the album. The goal was to put a lot of work and love into it.”
Having recorded the bulk of their work for Elektra Records, La Cucaracha marks the beginning of a new partnership with the storied indie label Rounder Records, which suits Melchiondo just fine. “In 2007, being on BMG or Interscope would be the kiss of death,” Melchiondo says. “If I had to do over I wouldn’t sign [with a major again] — and, to be fair, I don’t think those labels would bother to pursue us if we were starting out now. For a band like Ween, we don’t really need a label to do anything for us other than manufacture the CDs and put them in stores. Ten years ago, it was totally different. You spent $100,000 on a video for the big single and you build a marketing campaign around that. For [La Cucaracha] there was no single, no video, no promo, no marketing plan. We just got back from five weeks on tour and every single show was sold out.”
Detractors tend to dismiss Ween as the alt-rock equivalent of South Park, making music for people who never got over Mad magazine. But given the size, scope, and authenticity of their put-ons — not to mention the length and durability of their commitment to Making The Ha-Ha Funny — I’d say Dean and Gene Ween are something closer to Zen tricksters than holy fools. And for that I applaud them with the sound of one hand clapping.
[Photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]
Ween remains happily adolescent
Ween’s audience is anyone who has ever:
2. Attended a kegger in the woods.
3. Purchased a South Park poster from the head shop in New Hope. You know the one.
4. Done all the above during a single day.
For about 23 years, the semi-demonic duo of Dean and Gene Ween (Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman) has been turning out outrageous albums of genre-hopping gymnastics and scatological hilarity for the aforementioned audience, which turned out in droves Saturday night for a nearly three-hour show at the Tower Theater.
Performing beneath a giant banner bearing the crowned countenance of Boognish (Ween’s all-purpose mascot-cum-deity) rendered in a child’s scrawl, and decked out in non-matching denim and flannel, Dean and Gene opened with a drifty series of acoustic numbers (“Friends,” “Chocolate Town,” “Mutilated Lips”) before getting down to business with the prog-stomp of “The Golden Eel.”
From there, it was on to the inbred-Creedence Clearwater Revival hootenanny of “Learnin’ to Love,” the he-man hillbilly blooze of “With My Own Bare Hands,” and that song about going to the bathroom up a rope from 12 Golden Country Greats. But before anyone could get saddle-sore, we were jetting off to merry old England for a trippy dose of Brit-psych: “Transdermal Celebration” and “Buckingham Green.”
Jokey, high-concept set pieces like the tropical drug-runner diaries of “Bananas and Blow” and Upper West Side jazz-bar smarm of “Your Party” were offset by a surprising amount of the band’s crasser fare: “The HIV Song,” “Touch My Tooter” and a couple of titles you can’t print in a family newspaper.
Still, even at their lowest, the live band sounded as sharp and in-the-pocket as I have ever heard them. “Lullabye” was gorgeous, “The Mollusk” was a salty treat, and “Dr. Rock” did just that.