Photo by Hannah Warry-Smith
Ween, Toronto Urban Roots Fest, Toronto, ON- 9/17
Few bands wield the power possessed by Ween, and even fewer focus their grip over a rabid fanbase with such reverence. Sonic might aside, the colossally wide catalog of material from Gene and Dean Ween (Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo) enables the pair to delve in to the far reaches of their 32-year history in creating live shows that delight and astonish their most passionate followers. Not only did Ween deliver a setlist packed with rarities to the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) crowd Saturday night, but the band executed its plan with the precision and tangible emotion of a honed and vital master.
Offering starkly different fare from the family-friendly Barenaked Ladies, who wrapped their TURF set moments before Ween took the stage, Freeman and Melchiondo tipped their hand to their hardcore fans immediately with the opening selection of “Did You See Me” – a slow-burning dirge that devolves into prog-rock cacophony, and a tune not known for kicking things off. Freeman’s lyrical dexterity gave way to Melchiondo’s searingly melodic guitar work on “The Argus,” a sought after gem with oddly early placement, and the dedicated horde crowding the pit of the concert field brimmed with excitement for the treats to come.
Amidst the steadiness of juvenile standards like “Piss Up A Rope,” “Wavin’ My Dick in the Wind” and “Bananas and Blow,” the set weaved through dark corners of Ween’s oeuvre with the expert rendering of a band completely on its game. “The Stallion, Part 5” was tight as can be for a song making its first appearance since Ween returned from a lengthy hiatus earlier this year, while the scarce and subtle “I Play It Off Legit” stretched to hypnotic range. The jam-friendly “Voodoo Lady” appeared at the half way mark, buoying the proceedings with some semblance of rock normalcy, before a generous dose of fan service jolted things back to the realm of the aficionado.
The languid thrust and sickened subject matter of “Mononucleosis” – a deep cut from 1991’s hardly-accessible The Pod LP – signaled unequivocally that Ween had ventured North of the border to satisfy its most ardent admirers. Doubling down with “Demon Sweat” – another coveted Pod track – Melchiondo leaned into a solo that was at once sultry and tortured, while Freeman ramped up his theatrical vocal delivery and the audience faithfully hung on every note. The distinguished programming continued with the groovy “Transitions” and the warped mantra of “How High Can You Fly”, before the classic “Buckingham Green” provided another dominant and uniting moment.
“We’re Ween and we’re here to fuck you with our music,” proclaimed a proud Melchiondo ahead of the bizarre combo of “Israel” and “Pollo Asado.” That TURF booked a cult act of Ween’s stature is no surprise, given the fest’s admirable history of merging diverse artists on Toronto’s most eclectic and well-conceived bills. The rigor of Ween’s performance followed a logical path as well, with the band now many months into its comeback groove and a local fanbase almost six years removed from its last taste. As the soothing strains of “The Mollusk” echoed throughout the grounds, the quality and generosity of Ween’s playing cradled their betrothed one more time. Few bands could dream of someday matching Ween’s canon, and even fewer would brandish it as gratifyingly.