Behold the insane power of Ween’s enduring, dedicated following. On Saturday at Desert Daze, the band used most of their two-hour set time to perform an ostensibly 55-minute album in its entirety, 1994’s demented alt-rock bouillabaisse, Chocolate And Cheese. The deepest cut on the 16-track LP might be the dub-noise pastiche “Candi,” a song the band has never performed live until tonight. The band was unprepared to perform this loping, watery outlier, but no one seemed to mind.
Gene Ween: “Who sings this?”
Dean Ween: “You do. [Laughs.] We talked about practicing this.”
As soon as bassist Dave Dreiwitz launched into its dopey bassline, the crowd went wild. Gene attempted to sing it, but Dean said “you suck” and soon took control. As the band lurched through it, the song became something of a comedy routine: Gene making a show of shittily playing cowbell and claves, Dean making a fart noise into the mic and slurring his words. It was sloppy and hilarious and full of actual laugh out loud moments. They did it on the main stage of a festival they were headlining. It was perfectly Ween.
A moment to be goofy and loose truly shined in part because the five-member ensemble is ridiculously tight these days. “Take Me Away” was basically a hard-rock barnburner, “Roses Are Free” was a chunk-rock dynamo, “Voodoo Lady” was a wild marathon. Gene’s voice is a remarkable instrument, able to do the crooner shouts in “Take Me Away,” the slinky falsetto in “Freedom Of ’76,” the raspy accent in “I Can’t Put My Finger On It” and the extra stink on the “fuck you” in “Baby Bitch.”
The album was smeared and stretched in the exploratory way that’s made them the unlikely heroes of jam band fans. Much of the credit can go to Dean Ween, who probably deserves to be in the Greatest Guitarists conversation, but probably won’t be because he uses his Prince/Eddie Hazel-styled talents on songs called things like “Poop Ship Destroyer.” He turned the center of “Take Me Away” from acid-fried shred to acid-fried noise; he provided a long and wild “Voodoo Lady” solo at the top of his neck then squealing with harmonics.
So, in turn, some of the best moments were the most human. A Sons Of The Pioneers-esque take on “Drifter In The Dark” featured a Gene solo on harmonica. As the band seemed to reach their conclusion, Gene seemed to not want it to end. A repeat cycle played like a funny joke, a song falling apart and a great musical moment all in one. Quipped Dean, “You were like Charlie Parker there.”
After finishing up the record’s 16 tracks, they had time to do a fiery rendition of 1992’s “Touch My Tooter” (well, as fiery as you can do a song called “Touch My Tooter”), followed by “You Fucked Up,” “Someday” and a theremin-assisted take on “Buckingham Green.”
“I hope somebody recorded that,” said Dean after the festival headliners got hundreds of festival people to giddily shout along to “The HIV Song.” They are one of the weirdest festival headliners around, but their insane interplay, chops, unpredictability and humanity are not lost in translation.
— (@scottgum) October 13, 2019