It felt great to see Ween being Ween again at Riot Fest. After some time off for health and sobriety, this was their first 2019 show and they wasted no time making fun of stuff, wailing guitar solos and exchanging witty onstage banter that suggested the break served its purpose. These guys were having a blast.
As showtime hit, a huge crowd of all ages spanned Douglas Park chanting, “Ween! Ween! Ween!” as the symbolic Boognish dropped across the back of the stage, signaling the show would start soon. No one really knew what to expect besides a full performance of their 1997 studio album, The Mollusk, but the grateful look on frontman Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween’s) face when he took the stage said it all:
For fans of the band, one of Ween’s most endearing qualities is their genuine elation and appreciation for the fact that we’re all just -here- in these moments. That they’re playing these songs for us that they wrote twenty or thirty years ago, that we still love them, and that this is a thing we all get to do. That life is completely fucked, but for now at least we can thrash around listening to Ween songs together.
Ween’s two-hour Riot Fest set painted a mural with this brush, spanning their career across the setlist with representation from almost every studio album. They paid homage by teasing the tunes of recently deceased musicians Eddie Money and Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, and surprised everyone by opening with “Big Jilm” for the first time in twenty years. It felt a little like the band sticking their tongues out and saying, “We’re not gonna do what you all think we’re gonna do and go right into The Mollusk, so there!” and it ruled.
Asked to play The Mollusk by Riot Fest as part of their special fifteenth anniversary lineup, Ween joined bands Bloc Party (Silent Alarm), Dashboard Confessional (The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most), and Blink-182 (Enema of the State) among others who delivered full album plays.
Ween show highlights included “Puerto Rican Power,” “Mutilated Lips,” the rarely played “It’s Gonna Be (Alright),” and the crowd singing along to basically every word of the whole show besides the instrumental “Pink Eye (On My Leg).” After pushing through a rocky start to their Irish pub chanty, “The Blarney Stone,” about halfway through The Mollusk, it truly felt like peak Ween. With saturated history in Chicago, especially surrounding this song, it made sense that the melody lingered in the air as the longest track of the night. As they wrapped up the song in a sentimental moment, a hush fell over the crowd and another stage’s music bled over.
“I can tell we’re way better than that band over there, whoever the fuck they are,” Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) said, breaking the silence and mocking the drifting noise. Everyone laughed, but the thing is with Ween: it doesn’t matter who the other band is, that sentiment is true. Ween is the best band and even when singing about shit, piss and disease they can stir up emotion in the crustiest human barnacles walking this earth.
Everyone was cracking up, Ween was smiling and playing on stage and it just felt right. Thank you, Riot Fest, and thank you, Ween. There’s a lot of broken shit in the world, and we’re all lucky that right now, Ween isn’t one.
Setlist (Courtesy Brownbase):
Big Jilm, Transdermal Celebration, I Gots a Weasel, Captain Fantasy, Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?, The Stallion pt 1, Puerto Rican Power, I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight, The Mollusk, Polka Dot Tail, I’ll Be Your Jonny on the Spot, Mutilated Lips, The Blarney Stone, It’s Gonna Be (Alright), The Golden Eel, Cold Blows the Wind, Pink Eye (On My Leg), Waving My Dick in the Wind, Buckingham Green, Ocean Man, She Wanted to Leave, I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight (reprise), Nan, Baby Hold On (tease), Gabrielle, Happy Colored Marbles, Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down). Encore: Roses Are Free
Listen to the show here: https://archive.org/details/ween091519riotfest. Denver’s Mission Ballroom hosts Ween’s next three-night run over Halloween.