The Poop Ship Destroyer landed at Los Angeles’ Wiltern, leaving Ween to disembark from their hallowed vessel and indulge revelers in the planet’s premiere purveyance of surreal rock and roll.
But then, standing on the sacred stage was—gasp!—an opening act! This seems odd for Ween, who usually prefer to be the center of the party, rocking alone, well into the wee hours. Tonight though, instead of a solitary set, Ween followers were treated to the strangely psychedelic, absurdly loud, musings of Gibby Haynes and His Problem. It takes a certain kind of brilliant, demented mind to front a band called the Butthole Surfers. The moonlighting Haynes did not disappoint, warming the crowd with a sonic barrage of ever-eclectic tunes.
Drastically shifting in style, the songs were quick to change, one outright punk rock terrorfest segued immediately into a spacey ballad. This second song came complete with a projection of Christopher Reeve in his Superman suit floating through the atmosphere. A veiled commentary on stem cell research? At the end of the set, the band politely killed their instruments, gently knocking the drums over, one at a time, as the guitars’ electrified strings droned on. One of the band members dropped his pants before departing. Rock and roll baby! Fine and dandy.
The time had come. Lucky Angelinos would now get an opportunity to see Ween perform in support of their multifaceted album, Quebec. Exciting indeed, Ween shrewdly inoculate themselves against logical music criticism by insisting on one message and one message alone: FUN. Gene and Dean obviously don’t care much about their image, or about current trends. Their disdain for commercial trappings was cemented when they released the major label album 12 Golden Country Greats in 1996. It surely wasn’t the best way to jump on the rickety grunge gravy train, but it pleased the band, surprised their fans, and damned if that country record doesn’t still smoke!
Along the same line, the band plays “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)”. I don’t want to like it, but I do, despite myself. The depressing, medical lyrics, alongside Gene Ween’s anguished, prepubescent vocal delivery, its an obvious attempt at gutter humor, but i get into it all the same. We hear a sickly child ask his mother, “Am I gonna see God, Mommy? / Am I gonna die?” No one wants to laugh at other people’s misery, but “Spinal Meningitis” is a truly rebellious work. It makes me laugh against my better judgment. It reminds us that humor can be a fine reaction to life’s darker moments. It spits in the face of good taste.
What good is good taste when you’re going to see Ween anyway? I leaned a long time ago that you had better come prepared for, “Bananas and Blow”, “You Fucked Up”, “Homo Rainbow”, “Piss Up a Rope”, and the always spastic, “Touch My Tooter”, or else you’ll spend your night with your arms folded across your chest.
Luckily, there were no such prudes in the Wiltern. The audience roared when Dean Ween announced, right off the bat, that we were in for a long night. After a few songs to heat things up, Ween really got cooking with Quebec‘s twisted “Happy Colored Marbles”.
Ween’s pace slowed for the romantic “She’s Your Baby” and revved up again for “Take Me Away”. To be fair this second song usually works best to open a set. Nevertheless, it’s always an immense pleasure to watch Claude Coleman rap on the drums with his octopus arms.
“Zoloft” meandered a bit and stunted the show’s momentum. I guess that’s appropriate given the song’s title. A wonderful version of “Transdermal Celebration” lead into an all-time Ween classic, the bombastic “Buckingham Green”, replete with piercing, teeth-rattling theremin crescendos. Through blinding bright lights and before an adoring audience, “Buckingham” seemed like gospel music made for an alien spaceship.
“I’m Holding You” was one of Ween’s few forays into country and was, thus, a concert highlight. The band followed it with the equally chilled “Chocolate Town”. Unfortunately, the toe-tapping “Pandy Fackler” got out of control as Gene left the stage to urinate. The righteous keyboard maestro, Glen McClelland, embarked on a free form jazz odyssey. Unfortunately, I wasn’t invited. Luckily, the band managed to pull it all back together with little damage done.
Any Phish fans searching for a new gig to follow would have been pleased to hear a sharp “Roses Are Free”. Two Ween gems followed, the loony aquatic masterstroke “The Mollusk” and the lovely “Stay Forever”, which is as sweet a love song as you’re likely to hear, from Ween at least. When Ween’s lyrics aren’t coated in ironic humor, the words become even more powerful.
Just when things couldn’t get heavier, Ween unleashed their Motorhead-inspired barnburner “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night” and then immediately blasted through an exciting surprise cover of “Ace of Spades” with bassist Dave Dreiwitz supplying vocals. After that vicious pummeling “Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?” was almost an afterthought.
It was a long, glorious night indeed. Unlucky fans who missed out can only hope that the band manages a full and speedy recovery. Since their appearance in L.A., the Ween camp has announced that the rest of their tour is cancelled due to an undisclosed health issue. Until they return, I’ll be here day-dreaming about a concert where fans can simultaneously laugh, cringe, break dance, and be touched all at the same time.