Staying Brown: Gene and Dean Ween in the 21st Century (Relix Revisited)
With all the latest news regarding the future of Ween, we’ve decided to revisit this piece from our Feb-March 2008 issue.
One way to New Hope, Pennsylvania, is to leave New York City and head west, past the shipping containers of middle New Jersey, the truck yards, the swamps and the bridges, until the country looks agreeable again, through button-cute towns like Lambertville, and—finally—over the burbling Delaware River and across the state line. Another way is to simply materialize there.
It was the latter method of conveyance chosen by a teeth-bearing demon-head who appeared in the hallways of New Hope’s junior high school in 1984. Perhaps it was lured by the Chamber of Commerce’s promises of a “sophisticated yet country-casual town [that] provides a much needed break from today’s hectic lifestyle.” Perhaps it was baked.
Whether by design or chance, the head—who called itself the Boognish—arrived in exactly the right time and place to find the perfect vessels: a pair of eighth graders named Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo Jr. who lingered outside Mrs. Slack’s typing class. Whether Ween saw the Boognish or just mutually decided to start telling people about it, they started recording and didn’t stop.
By the time the duo—who’d renamed themselves Gene and Dean Ween, respectively—hit the cult-success big-time, they may have been the most dangerous guys with guitars on the planet. Parents never really had to worry about their kids imitating Led Zeppelin, after all. Where would the impressionable youth have access to groupies and red snappers, anyway? Ween, on the other hand, practically distributed blueprints: album art depicting a gas mask labeled as a “Scotchgard bong.”
In the age before Wikifiable hearsay, it was whispered—in dorm rooms and high school hallways—that every Ween album was a concept LP based on a given substance: 1999’s White Pepper for cocaine, 1996’s 12 Golden Country Greats for whiskey (or maybe beer), 1991’s The Pod for (duh) Scotchgard. They sounded it, too. But what was really dangerous about Ween was how productive they were, those two stoners who just wanted to screw with poor Mrs. Slack.
But something funny happened to Ween in the course of being funny: they transformed into an enduring rock band. Turning the Boognish into a highly marketable logo, they earned one wave of fans when MTV embraced “Push th’ Little Daisies” in 1992 (which got as high as #23 on the Modern Rock Chart) and another wave in 1997, when Phish began to cover “Roses Are Free.” Their catalogue has embraced unlistenable noise, surprisingly soulful sessions with Nashville vets, and (most recently) lite jazz figurehead David Sanborn. Meanwhile, their public face developed into a durable road quintet.
It helps that their songs are pitch-perfect 20-something anthems, as immaculately written as they are fun to drunkalong with. Go to a Ween show and it’ll be accompanied by two or three hours of monster guitar action. And there is every reason in the world to laugh with nu-canon classics like “Piss Up A Rope” and “Bananas and Blow,” just as there is to giggle at Gene Ween’s retarded kid voices, the screamed tape experiments of their teenage years, and everything else. But it is not novelty that makes them unique. After all, they’ve been around for 24 years.
Like Phish or Frank Zappa, Ween present a release valve for a very specific type of misfit. Drugs are frequently involved, and—subsequently— silliness. But the amount of naked emotion laid out in Ween songs can also be kind of startling. Collaborating infrequently, rarely touring with opening acts, recording with their own money and licensing to a label later, and managed in a low-key way by a former roadie/engineer, Ween are also fiercely independent from any type of scene, save what happens at John and Peter’s, a New Hope bar.
Despite a host of influences and the colliding subcultures of hippies, frat boys, prog-dorks, and those who don’t identify with anybody but Dean and Gene, Ween operate alone, serving a function they are—in some sense—semi-willing slaves to.
More popular than they’ve ever been, they’re now regularly playing theaters for the first time. “I simply don’t like it,” Melchiondo wrote on his BrownieTroop666 blog of playing at seated venues. “It’s not really right for Ween.” The band played for 5,000 at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, and two sold-out nights at New York’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5. La Cucaracha, released last year, also represents Ween’s highest Billboard showing to date, peaking (appropriately, perhaps) at #69 on the Top 200.
Lotta strands in ol’ Gener’s head.
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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