August 22, 2016
A 90-percent chance of thunderstorms until 10 p.m. Severe flooding expected. Commutes being delayed as long as possible. These are the last things you want to read a few hours before one of your favorite bands plays their home turf for the first time in nine years.
Witnessing the deluge from a barstool, I worried that the show I bought tickets to see months ago would be canceled and my opportunity to photograph Ween for the first time would be stymied. As luck would have it (as an audience member ecstatically exclaimed, “Praise the Almighty Boognish!”), the ominous gray clouds passed over Festival Pier and the rain ceased about an hour before the boys were scheduled to take the stage.
Ween fans are a unique breed. They are passionate and steadfastly loyal — almost fanatically so. The most dedicated fans may actually believe that Ween is the only band that has ever existed, so you might be able to imagine the unbridled exhilaration when the band sauntered on stage for its first Philadelphia show since 2007 — nine long years that encompassed a four-year breakup so Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) could get sober.
Joined on stage by their fellow bandmates, keyboardist Glenn McClelland, drummer Claude Coleman, Jr., and bassist Dave Dreiwitz, Gener and Deaner (Mickey Melchiondo) presented themselves with smiles plastered across their faces, Gener draping his arm across Deaner’s shoulder, reassuring their admirers that the hurt feelings of the past had been vanquished.
Not a band to tread lightly, they busted things open with the blistering, not-for-the-faint-of-heart “Nan” from their 1990 lo-fi debut album “GodWeenSatan: The Oneness.” Transitioning from there into the blissful, beautifully executed “Transdermal Celebration” from “Quebec,” followed by a succinct, pulsating rendition of “White Pepper”’s “The Grobe,” Ween exhibited their characteristic sonic diversity in just the first three songs. From there they seared through heaps of fan favorites, including “Bananas and Blow,” “Spinal Meningitis,” “Happy Colored Marbles,” “Roses Are Free,” “Mutilated Lips,” “The Stallion (Part 1)”, and tons of other face-melting specimens of their trademark eccentricity.
Dean and Gene switched gears toward the end of the set, treating the crowd to acoustic versions of “The Mollusk,” “Kim Smoltz,” “Chocolate Town,” “Tried and True,” and “The HIV Song.” Ween closed the set with two of the night’s highlights — the scorching “Dr. Rock,” during which drummer Claude Coleman, Jr., wowed the audience with an astute, incomprehensibly fast drum solo, and the radiant tribute to Philly, “Freedom of 76.”
Belting out nearly 30 songs had understandably put a bit of a strain on Freeman’s voice, so he left much of the “Freedom” falsetto to the audience, who gladly accepted the challenge. After nearly a decade of absence, Ween encored with three beloved songs, “Big Jilm,” “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony,” and “Buenas Tardes Amigo,” painting Philadelphia brown once more.