The two have recorded a dozen albums and amassed a huge underground following of rabid fans, thanks to their excellent songwriting and their life-changing concert performances, which can be staggering fifty song opuses that frequently last longer than three and a half hours.
Each night is a different set list and a three-minute song can sometimes be extended to a twenty-minute symphony complete with epic Hendrix-style breakdowns.
Ween has mastered the art of the rock idiom and performs songs in pretty much any genre imaginable. Rock, prog, country, jazz, death metal, easy listening, techno, pop: they do it all.
I’ve been going to their concerts since it was just the two of them and a tape machine at the Kennel Club (a former incarnation of the Independent) in 1992.
I’ve seen them every time they’ve come to town since then and I can say without reservation, that at this point in history, on a good night, Ween is the best live band currently in existence.
I go to see a lot of bands, but every time Ween comes to town it’s almost always the best show I see that year, and some of their albums, like The Pod and The Mollusk, are American classics. These are some pretty high expectations to live up to.
So how did Gene Ween do at his solo show at the Independent Tuesday night (6/16/09)? Pretty damn well. In fact, the show was filled with moments of timeless beauty.
By the third song, “Don’t get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy,” everything had degenerated into a cathartic campfire sing-along.
As a solo act, Gene did just what his larger band Ween does: he shoveled out the greatest hits one after the other.
And what great songs they were— Voodoo Lady, Chocolate Town, Gene sampled freely from every era of the immense Ween songbook.
He played with the intensity and skill of a Dylan or Neil Young solo acoustic show, but Gene was coming from a whole different place.
It was a place of North Jersey angst and dark brown East Coast bile.
He has a great sense of humor about what he’s doing, and that becomes incredibly infectious with the audience.
He’s a born entertainer and a natural showoff and with a hook like the one in “Marble Tulip Juicy Tree” you can’t go wrong. It wasn’t flawless (Gene occasionally forgot a line or flubbed a guitar lead) but these were minor distractions given the overall intensity of the performance.
To his credit, Gene was not overly indulgent with his arrangements; most of the songs were stripped down to their raw core elements of vocals and guitar cords.
Though he used a variety of pedals, Gene played solely on acoustic guitar. It was Ween Unplugged.
Certain songs such as The Grobe or Flutes of the Chi that border on being over-produced on their albums were given a whole new life in these spare versions.
It’s like the basic pure beauty of the songs was allowed to shine through. It was one stellar gem after another, culminating in a transcendent and inspired Push The Little Daisies.
The encore included a beautiful Pork Roll Egg And Cheese and the epic Buenos Tardes Mi Amigo.
But his choice to end the show with Puffy Cloud with its lines of smoking too much pot, in a cloudy room full of San Francisco stoners, was one of the funniest show closers I’ve seen in years.
Jon Longhi is sad that he was home writing this article instead of at the Independent on Wednesday night when Gene Ween did a completely different show with very few repeat songs from the night before.