Rewind to the year 2011 and nobody would’ve thought that Ween would ever be playing shows again, let alone some of the best shows of their career. In fact, Gene Ween said as much to this writer in a 2014 interview. But life is funny that way and even though the world may be going to shit, Gener and Deaner have been back in the saddle for a few years now and the loyal tribe of fans are none the happier raising a freak flag to the brown. Instead of getting fatigued by the road, the eccentric cult rockers have been playing one-off shows, making them special occasions. On August 17 and 18, Ween closed out their run of summer shows with two triumphant shows at the Edgefield Amphitheater just outside Portland, OR.
With the ability to jump from pop to R&B to disco, punk and pretty much any other genre over the course of a setlist, Ween has never been a band that can be pinned down. However, their two shows at Edgefield seemed to contain certain themes that the band tapped into throughout each night. Friday’s show was focused as the band busted out some of their best known songs and added a sludgy metal tone to many of them as if they had been listening to the Melvins leading up to it. The sludge first reared its head during what may have been the highlight of night one – a thick take on “The Rift”, which has never been played live and was done with loads of shredding that gave way into a long ambient group jam. “Object” continued in this vein with a slow burning yet pretty tone, and after the freaky rambling of “Take Me Away”, the always catchy “Transdermal Celebration”, and a wonderfully demented “I Gots A Weasel”, the band dropped back into the metal vibes with “The Stallion Pt. 1” backed by clouds of fog. With Deaner leading the charge with absolutely thick and vicious guitar work, the band would only go deeper into the sludge with “How High Can You Fly?”, a monstrous take on “Frank” that was downright sleazy and featured plenty of back and forth guitar wanking from Gener and Deaner, and “Albino Sunburned Girl”. There were lighter moments too with a brief jaunt into country material with the wonderfully juvenile romp “Piss Up a Rope”, a hippie dippy “Chocolate Town” and the later double header of “Touch My Tooter and “Japanese Cowboy”. Even those who came to hear longtime favorites and poppier material were not let down as the band cheerfully charged through “Spinal Meningitis”, “Bananas and Blow”, and the silky smooth R&B number “Your Party.” It was in these lighter moments, contrasted with the heavier material, that truly showed how multi-faceted Ween can be even after so many years of playing together.
After dishing out so much goodness on Friday, the fans returned Saturday wondering what surprises Deaner, Gener and the rest of the band had up their sleeve. The band would reward them with a show that was loose, funky, and downright weird in the way that only Ween fans can appreciate. Right after opening with the full throttle, Zeppelin-esque “Captain Fantasy”, the band commanded the crowd to do the “brown tide” aka The Wave and joked that it had never been done at a Ween show before. This may have been a signal that much of what would follow onstage had never been done at a Ween show, at least musically. Following a freewheeling funk-meets-punk take on “Nan”, things immediately took off with the groggy ballad “She Fucks Me”, played sloppy (in a good way) and sweet. “Boy’s Club” brought things back up with a light tambourine-laced summer jam that ended up as a cowbell free-for-all.
Perhaps the finest moment of the entire run came during “Voodoo Lady”, one of the band’s best-known songs, which already started on a high when Deaner kicked it off with a long and funky guitar intro. Following the chorus, Deaner spiraled out of control in the best kind of way as he laid into a blistering guitar assault like Jimi Hendrix possessed by PCP demons riding a psychedelic wave of blues shredding. With the crowd’s collective face melted from what felt like a good 10 minutes of guitar soloing, the band almost casually dropped into a loping groove going before morphing into a danceable funk groove. While there were other highlights throughout the set – bassist Dave Dreiwitz doing his best impression of Lemmy from Motörhead with “It’s Gonna Be A Long Night, the raw punk of “Puerto Rican Power”, and the pure rock and roll bliss of “Licking the Palm For Guava” among others – the only part that reached nearly the high of “Voodoo Lady” was “Zoloft”. In terms of the weird factor, this was the peak. Shortly after singing his verses Gener left the stage and Deaner seized the moment to turn the song into a free-flowing lounge jazz session that wound its way through peaks and valleys only to culminate with him and Dreiwitz plopping down on the edge of the stage and serenading the rail riders with their own private bare-footed performance.
As the show kept going on it seemed the band was on a high that they could not come down from. They blew minds again with a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” that segued into “You Fucked Up” only to jump back into “Enter Sandman”. Where would they go from here? With the clock counting down to curfew they entered the final turn of the night with yet another huge batch of songs that included “The Mollusk” and a set closing “Birthday Boy” that sent all the fans into the night feeling like they had just been given the best birthday possible: two incredible Ween shows. Indeed, Ween’s run in Portland was a celebration of a band that only seems to get better as they get older.
8/17/2018 (Friday) – Edgefield, Troutdale, Oregon
The HIV Song, The Golden Eel, The Rift, Object, Take Me Away, Transdermal Celebration, I Gots a Weasel, The Stallion pt 1, Wayne’s Pet Youngin, I Can’t Put My Finger on It, How High Can You Fly?, Frank, Albino Sunburned Girl, Piss Up a Rope, Chocolate Town, Buckingham Green, Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?, Seconds, Touch My Tooter, Japanese Cowboy, Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down), Happy Colored Marbles, Back to Basom, Mutilated Lips, Bananas and Blow, Long Train Runnin’ (tease), Your Party
Encore: Ocean Man, Don’t Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy), Homo Rainbow
8/18/2018 (Saturday) – Edgefield, Troutdale, Oregon
Captain Fantasy, Nan, She Fucks Me, The Grobe, Boy’s Club, Voodoo Lady, With My Own Bare Hands, The Stallion pt 3, Springtheme, It’s Gonna Be a Long Night, Puerto Rican Power, Licking the Palm For Guava> Mushroom Festival in Hell, Ice Castles, A Tear For Eddie, Zoloft> Pandy Fackler, Roses Are Free, Tried and True, I Don’t Want It, Enter Sandman> You Fucked Up> Enter Sandman (reprise), Kim Smoltz, Demon Sweat, The Mollusk
Encore: Squelch the Weasel, Puffy Cloud, Birthday Boy
Photos from August 17 show only. All photos by Greg Homolka.