Love'em or hate'em, Ween remain as ruthlessly obnoxious and wonderfully inane as ever.
Ween’s detractors have no shortage of ammunition. The perverted Pennsylvania duo has often been dismissed as tasteless, a far-from-shocking claim if you peruse some of the group’s song titles: “The HIV Song”, “Don’t Shit Where You Eat”, “Waving My Dick in the Wind”, and “L. M. L. Y. P. (Let Me Lick Your Pussy)” are just a few classic (if not classy) numbers. It’s true; the band takes a unique delight in filth, in redemption through unbridled obscenity. There are also those who’d accuse Gener and Deaner (Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, respectively) of shamelessly pandering to the jam-band crowd -- that stereotypical cult of bong-worshipping hippies still reeling from the blow of Phish’s breakup. Admittedly, Ween’s shows are peppered with extended soloing on tracks such as "Voodoo Lady" and Phish sound-alike “Pandy Fackler”, and on Saturday night, the aimless jamming also reared its ugly head on “Never Squeal”. The omnipresent “puffy cloud” of weed smoke and balloons of nitrous oxide do little to refute the stereotypes, and the banter I overheard was just as bad (at one point, a couple behind me enthusiastically exclaimed that “we’ve now seen more Ween shows together than Phish shows!”).
That said, at Terminal 5 the band displayed one truly commendable quality that cannot be denied: they give a shit about their fans. When I say “fans”, I don’t mean casual admirers; no sir, I’m talkin’ ’bout die-hard devotees who shell out the dough for tickets and perhaps hotel expenses to see the band two nights (or many, many more) in a row. We’re talking about the folks I saw Saturday night, screaming out the chorus to “Dr. Rock” and yelling desperate requests for “The Argus” and “Poop Ship Destroyer” between songs. Hell, I even saw some of these people providing their own drunken rendition of The Pod’s “Awesome Sound”. About three or four songs into the show, frontman Aaron Freeman (Gene) asked if anyone had attended the previous night. About a fourth, maybe even a third of the crowd fervently raised their hands. “Alright,” responded Gene, now grinning. “We’ll play different songs for you guys.” And he did: Ween launched into a nearly three-hour, career-spanning set with only one overlap from the previous night’s show -- upbeat bookend “Fiesta”. When I yelled out a half-joking request for “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?”, the guy to my right informed me that it was played last night, and was thus off-limits. Backed by keyboardist Glenn McClelland, drummer Claude Coleman Jr, and bassist Dave Dreiwitz, the boys played at least two songs from each of their studio albums, giving diehard fans precisely the erratically unpredictable assault they’ve come to expect. The rousing comeback show even managed to transcend Terminal 5;s poor sound quality. And make no mistake, it was a comeback of sorts. Not that Ween ever broke up, but the band hit a low point in 2004 while promoting the previous year’s disarmingly serious Quebec. Ween canceled a tour, citing a “problem within the band, that requires an immediate intervention, for the health, welfare, and safety of one of its members.” Three years later, Ween seems truly revitalized: La Cucaracha is undoubtedly the most eclectic of their records in at least a decade, a genre-hopping tour-de-force balancing shamelessly uncouth sex anthems (“With My Own Bare Hands”) with a sultry, David Sanborn-featuring smooth jazz (“Your Party”). After “Fiesta”, Ween played four other songs from the new record. “With My Own Bare Hands” became a violent battle cry, as the crowd screamed out lyrics that, in another context, could probably land you on a sex offender list. This led into an utterly face-melting onslaught of guitar noise from Deaner. The live interpretation of country foot-tapper “Learnin’ to Love” fell slightly flat, but was redeemed by Gene’s solo rendition of “Lullaby” (accompanied by piano). “Woman and Man” followed, a ten-minute cross-pollination between vintage Santana and Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand”, celebrated with a relentless climax of back-and-forth solos. The audience proved to be as versatile and bipolar as the band itself, forming a violently unforgiving mosh pit during Motörhead-tribute “Stroker Ace”, only to simulate the tranquility of a James Taylor audience during the band’s unexpectedly pretty acoustic set (“Tried and True”, “Birthday Boy”, “Help Me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain”, and “I Don’t Want It”). The group also ran through a handful of live staples that hadn’t been played the previous night, including lost Zappa masterpiece “Roses Are Free”, creepy prog-rock anthem “Mutilated Lips”, and surprise radio hit (and Beavis & Butthead favorite) “Push Th’ Little Daisies” from 1993’s helium-tinged Pure Guava. While a thorough description of the sprawling setlist would take far too long, it’s worth noting that the group delighted its loyal followers by unleashing a string of surprise oldies: “Fat Lenny” and “Papa Zit”, both brutal, melodically perverse noise-bursts from Ween’s four-track debut, were greeted with unmistakable excitement. “Big Jilm” was also unearthed, a far brighter rendition than its recorded version. “Never Squeal” was another welcome surprise, leading into an overlong, if technically impressive, drum solo that momentarily deflated the momentum of the show. I would have gladly traded seven minutes of the drum solo to hear one minute of “Tick”, which, while listed as a second encore on the printed setlist, was never performed. Such weaker moments were far and few between, however; Ween are both musical chameleons and comedians, balancing technical prowess with seemingly fearless unpredictability. Needless to say, the mutual loyalty between band and fanbase on display at Terminal 5 restored my faith. Come fear, come love, they are the stallions.