This Halloween I had the opportunity to see the band Ween live at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. Ween is not often a household name when it comes to ʼ90s alternative bands. Telling someone you frequently listen to the band that wrote “Ocean Man”—famous for its appearance in “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”—tends to prompt a lot of confused looks. However, its unique blend of genres, experimental vocals and varied instrumentation all make Ween one of the most fascinating rock groups of any time period. Its music bounces between being intensely emotional, humorously sexual and flat-out weird, depending on what song you choose. Even after many years of recording and touring, the group has not lost a step; its recent show was highly energetic and enjoyable all around, making for a fantastic experience of live music.
My girlfriend Chloe and I have been fans of the group for some time now, and we were ecstatic to see that it was playing nearby during her visit to Vassar. We left from the Poughkeepsie train station around 5 p.m., arriving at the Beacon Theatre about 30 minutes before the show started. The interior was regal and ornate, decorated with large statues and a red and gold color scheme. Concertgoers were mostly dressed in Halloween costumes, a contrast with the venue’s design, which felt very fitting for a Ween show. After security forced me to throw out my Clif bars and seek out the vendors instead, we found our seats in the orchestra section.
The band members entered on stage in a triumphant manner, dressed in squirrel costumes with large prosthetic testicles that they heaved into the audience. The group played behind its Boognish logo, often explained to be a demon-god from which the band sprouted from. Everyone had been seated until this point, after which everyone stood and danced throughout the show. “I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight” was aptly chosen as the opener, a bouncy, lighthearted track centered around the live piano accompaniment. Similar to many songs from the show, in the live version the band altered the instrumentation of the original studio recordings, removing extra brass parts in this case while emphasizing a heavier, guitar-oriented sound. Next up was “Take Me Away,” one of the many selections from Ween’s album “Chocolate and Cheese.” Drummer Claude Coleman Jr. was especially prominent in this song, thundering away on fills that made the track feel much heavier than it does on the album. The group’s humor was showcased on a slew of innuendo/expletive-filled songs like “Touch My Tooter,” “Piss Up a Rope” and “Wavin’ My Dick in the Wind.” Ween’s eclectic influences were visible in these selections, the second of these three tracks having the standard features of a country song paired with comedic, off-beat lyricism.
Other choices showcased the band’s more earnest, heartfelt songs. Romantic songs like “She’s Your Baby” and “Baby Bitch” were softer in comparison to the overall setlist, although their volume and intensity were increased in a live setting. Some of the band’s best known works were also chosen for performance, taking classics like “Buckingham Green,” “Roses and Free” and “Voodoo Lady” and expanding them in length. Michael Melchiondo Jr., aka Dean Ween, performed extended guitar solos with impressive ability, taking advantage of the freedom of live performance to wail on his instrument. I had been familiar with his talent on studio work but was quickly blown away by his live playing, which was far more virtuosic than I had previously realized. Many songs often entered into psychedelic jams, with intense colored lights and smoke machines positioned around the stage, visually aiding the music. The band’s live interpretations tended to be stylized in this manner, opting for more straightforward instrumentation and a dense guitar sound. My personal favorite Ween track, “What Deaner Was Talkin’ About,” was also performed in a passionate manner, bringing me back to my first memories of listening to the band’s music. The group had played around 25 songs from all across its discography by the time we left to catch the train home. I left the show with an even greater appreciation for the group’s creativity and energy; as I continue to listen to its music even more in the following weeks, I look greatly forward to the next time I can see Ween tour nearby.