Ween killed it under a Full Harvest Moon at Riot Fest last Friday by doing what they do best: delivering eclectic, sweaty, loud, and mind-blowing rock n' roll. They didn't technically headline on the Friday bill, but they did in my mind as I left the fest, still floating somewhere above from the "Back to Basom" played by Ween about three hours prior.
Sure, the Flaming Lips performed on the adjacent stage afterwards to close out the first day of Chicago's Riot Fest, but for my tastes the ratio of rock music played to the astounding amount of theatrical gimmicks in their set is just annoying. That's not to say the Flaming Lips as a band is not comprised of incredibly talented musicians, as the The Soft Bulletin still ranks pretty high up there on the "personally transformative albums of my youth" list, but I don't think their live show traditionally showcases that talent. It would be cool to see more performances from them backed by a full orchestra as they did earlier this year in Colorado. It would likely be well-attended as a national tour, while shining their individual chops within the band more brightly. I could also go for the development of The Electric Würms, 2014 sideproject of frontman Wayne Coyne and lesser-known Flaming Lips multi-instrumentalist and genius behind most of the Lips' arrangements, Andrew Drozd. Their freshman record, "Musik,Die Schwer Zu Twerk," if not a Jekkyl & Hyde thing, is what I think the Lips would be if they didn't have a brand to uphold as half-performance-art. It's full of the exploratory, psychedelic, prog sounds that used to define the band before releasing doves and glitter explosions became pinnacle moments of their shows. Also I think they probably could have gone without tuning up right in the middle of Ween's live set happening 50 yards away, but who knows the details as to why that was happening. Still, though...really?
Coming off the brown-high that is Ween is tough to top, especially when we got that elusive "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree." The first live performance of the throwback track since they returned from hiatus, fans new and old rejoiced upon realizing this was it.
Festival sets leave some bands stretched thin creatively, sometimes struggling to craft a setlist that shows off all the elements that make them whole in about an hour-and-a-half. But not Ween. The energy was high as they took the stage for their first time back in Chicago since they split in 2012. A historical place given their first DVD released in 2004, performed November 8 and 9, 2003, at Chicago's Vic Theatre, Live in Chicago, it was clear everyone was ready to rock. As the Boognish dropped across the back of the stage, the crowd roared and the band didn't keep us waiting. Coming out shoeless, par for the course, Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) headed to his mic stand with his tongue out at the crowd and a twinkle in his eyes that made the hair stand up all over my body.
This guitar God with a dark sense of humor who gives no f*^cks is the dream. And here he was, right in front of me. He looked over at Gener (Aaron Freeman), both grinning wide with a nod as they lovingly bestowed upon Chicago the same opening track as The Mollusk: "I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight." I guess it was in that exact moment that I realized how lucky we are to have Ween back together, playing again live. Some jaded old-school fans seem to not be getting the memo when they spit off recent reviews like, "it isn't as good as '98," or "I once saw them in a cafeteria...screw these big venues," or "that segue tonight was sloppy."
When artists share their music with us as fans, we should feel gratitude. It's one thing if it just doesn't do it for you -okay. But to call yourself a fan, then still never be happy with what the band brings to the table? Not cool. In today's world of "too much too fast" being the norm, with everything 2-clicks away in our pockets, I think there is a bit of love-loss to the process of creating music, the pain and joy that inspires its creation, and the respect to the artists who care to share this all with us. Us, who sometimes complain if they don't play the song we want, or if they flub a few notes. Us who don't actually play in the band ourselves or know what it's like to do so. Us, who should be glad that Ween is back together at all, and if we hear our favorite song(s) it's just a bonus.
Gener seems happy and healthy, and for that we should be stoked. They are on tour! They played the f*^ckng "Poopship Destroyer" for twelve-minutes at Lockn Festival last month. They are still goofy dudes who saw an opportunity to shed their brown light upon the masses in a pretty metal manner, and it was incredible. Mickey said recently in a closed social media post that their Boston show last month was the best Boston show they've EVER played, and one of their top 25 shows of all time. If this is just seven months into their return from hiatus, this time Ween, it is Us who hope you Stay Forever.
Each show since Broomfield has brought the band closer together it seems, and they're having a blast. It isn't up to us to say anything but thank you. They're giving it a go, and shredding it to pieces most of the time, which is rock n' roll in its essence. Everything that made rock n' roll what it is today was conceived in less perfect times of technology, and it used to be part of the process to explore the music. With that comes a few blips, sure. But that's what gives it character, and often what ends up leading to something beautiful. Would you rather the band not play at all? Because scorning a few missed notes over hours of music just seems petty.
So I am just saying, go ahead and be a super cool, armchair musicologist. Because, we get it, you're cool. But, Ween is cooler. And I like them being around. I think they totally shredded at Riot Fest. Mickey plays with the dexterity of a youngster, and with the suave sickness of the experienced musician he is. "A Tear for Eddie" still moves me like the first time I heard it ten years ago, and I'm so glad we got to hear one here in Chicago. Gener engaged the crowd with a peppering of, "Are you ready?" 's and Dave, Glenn, and Claude didn't miss a beat. In fact, Dave was smiling ear to ear for most of the show when he wasn't in a trance. The whole band seemed to be glad to be back in the Windy City after about six years since their last show here at The Aragon in 2010. Given the state of Gener's struggles at that time, they were probably looking forward to some redemption, and it could have even been an emotional experience. They exemplified what the band can do on the whole at Riot Fest. Since that's what festival sets are made for, playing 20 songs off twelve different albums in ninety minutes was likely no accident. With heavier tracks like "I'll be Your Jonny On the Spot," and "Tick," for the ragers; "Frank," "Stallion Part III," and "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree," for the heads, and a mixed bag of other choice tracks from across their twenty-year career, it was an energetic spectacle of all things Ween.
Gener closed out the end of "Buenas Tardes Amigo" by saying, "See you soon, Chicago!" so here's hopin' it wasn't hyperbole. Check the full setlist and photo gallery below.
Riot Fest Setlist 9/16/16:
- I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight
- The Golden Eel
- Happy Colored Marbles
- Baby Bitch
- Dr. Rock
- Touch My Tooter
- I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot
- My Own Bare Hands
- Marble Tulip Juicy Tree w/ Up on a Hill
- A Tear for Eddie
- The Stallion, Part 3
- Back to Basom
- The Grobe
- Wayne's Pet Youngin'
- You Were the Fool
- Buenas Tardes Amigo