As I was purchasing my ticket to this show at Knoxville’s Valarium, the dude behind the counter at the record store mentioned to me, “Hey, you know Ween is sober now, right?” Given Ween’s reputation as a hard partying act, one which I have seen barely able to finish a set coherently at times, this was a bit startling to me.
“Sober?” I asked, “Like, completely?”
“Yeah. They don’t even drink anymore because they think it will lead back to worse things.” Interesting, and what was not to believe? Though I have probably seen Ween play live more than any other band out there (except maybe Wilco, who might be equal in this regards), it had been some time. Since before La Cucaracha was released actually. I had no idea what was up with them these days.
I bought the ticket, went to the show, and quickly noticed a few differences from the last time I had seen them. For starters, Gene Ween is kind of looking like Daniel Johnston these days. Also, they’re stage show has become filled with lots of fog accompanied by an expensive and powerful light show. Lastly, they have stepped their musical performance up to a level far beyond that which I have ever seen them at before. This was easily, the best all around Ween show I had ever seen.
It’s not that they did anything especially novel or different than any other Ween show. It was simply that they played really well. They also played really long, topping out at almost three hours with no set breaks. As always, they hit on many favorites as they crossed this expansive amount of time, pulling songs from each of their albums but The Pod. This night, there seemed to be a particular propensity toward Chocolate and Cheese and The Mollusk. Of particular note was a rather booming version of “Ocean Man” on which Gene played a mandolin. They also finally delivered a “Roses Are Free” that worked as a worthy visitation to the studio version, whereas usually this song falls flat live when compared to the one found on Chocolate and Cheese. (Phish’s recorded live cover of the track may have set the bar high for Ween, ironically enough. At this show, they certainly cleared it by miles.)
As mentioned, they came this time with a ton of fog and lights. Their liberal use of both made for an incredibly surreal visual experience. The downside is that the haze often obscured Claude Coleman on the backline, which is unfortunate since his powerhouse drumming is something to see. The trade off, though, was a very good light operator who was obviously familiar with the material. Hence, his contribution to the show was also something to see, indeed.
When all was said and done, Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) hit the road immediately. I was, however, permitted to go back stage to attempt to interview Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) for this blog. I figured, after such an intense show, three simple, irreverent questions wouldn’t be too intrusive. Perhaps I could make three question interviews a regular staple of this site. I sat down catercorner to him, introduced myself again (it was the second time I had met him, actually), explained the deal, then fired the questions:
1. What are you listening to currently?
2. What is the one influence you’d like to keep away from your son?
3. What are you going to be for Halloween?
He looked at me blankly as I rattled them all off at once. Then he broke eye contact, shuffled his head around and mumbled something like, “I don’t know…whaaa mmuuhh hhnnnn.” The girl to his left answered two of the questions for him. According to her (though I question the authenticity of these answers) he was going to be a banana for Halloween and he was listening to…Belinda Carlisle? Yeah. I don’t know.
I tried to thank him for an excellent show, letting him know I had seen many and this was the best. A slightly disturbed look came across his face as he mumbled something else through more slurred and discombobulated speech.
“Well whether or not it felt to you like you did a good job,” I consoled, “from the objective viewpoint of an audience member, it was fantastic.” It still didn’t seem to register with him. Just more incoherency.
The announcement then came that the bus was rolling out and it was time to go. I exited without any of my interview questions really formally answered (though maybe he is being a banana for Halloween and maybe I misheard Belinda Carlisle). However, I did have a larger, more pressing question answered for me and I didn’t have to say a thing.
Is Ween sober these days? Absolutely not.
Here is some video from the show:
Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)
Back when El Deth Records was a newly budding record label, they used to have some insane events around the southeast United States. Their El Halloween was always perennial favorite that generally brought excellent music, packed houses and enough damage that they’d have to change locations every year. The one five years ago, the 2004 edition, occurred on a huge tree farm south of Knoxville. The line-up included David Davis, Dire Con, Obadiah, Next to Never and Matgo Primo, who more or less owned the better part of the night. Now, to commemorate the five year anniversary of that powerful night, and just in time for Halloween, El Deth has released El Deth Halloween 2004: Dead & Live. It’s a recap of Matgo Primo’s set that evening, in it entirety. (Granted, a bootleg of this night has been floating around for years, but now it’s remixed and remastered from the original tracks.)
Nowadays, Matgo Primo is a very refined band that is about as top notch as music can get in the southeast. Back then, in their infancy, they were no less excellent, but a whole lot more raucous. They often wore strange costume fashions while performing, but on this evening they were decked out in zombie gore. They must have played the part well because this recording captures a very uninhibited, gruff aggression on the stage.
None of the songs performed would eventually end up on Matgo Primo’s debut disc, None, Never. Many of them were recorded in the studio at one point for a great lost album that was produced by Simon Belmont. Though those sessions never surfaced, this live recording is still a pretty good document of that time period and some of their earliest songs. Musically, the most immediately engaging are the ones with member Dorain DeLuca shredding a guitar, rather than keys (“80’s Pop” and “Get to the Show,” for example). There is, however, a noticeable and refreshing increase in the intensity after the cops show up and force an intermission. “In Advance of a Broken Arm” pound swift and steady amid shouts of “Fuck the Police!” “Swamp Thing,” written specially for the show and whose sequel appears on None, Never, is a perfect Halloween song with dark noodlings that climax into an impudent horror show of guitars and yelling. Oddly enough, the whole thing begins with a cover of the Ducktales theme song.
There is a deal of banter on the disc, including an entire track of stage announcements warning of police outside the gates. Most of it is engaging as it’s aimed at the audience. None of it detracts from the meat of the thing. Plus it all sits on the ends of each applicable track, which makes for easy skipping if you really can’t handle the swears and nonsense.
If you’re curious about exploring Matgo Primo more, as you very well should be, but can’t seem to find their catalog hanging around, you’re in luck. El Deth Records has the entire Dead & Live set for free download on their website. Click here to go there and check it out.
Around Halloween, my girlfriend, myself and another couple traditionally venture down to the Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, Georgia. It is perhaps the largest, most professional and damn scariest haunted house in America, and well worth the visit. This year, however, we decided to cram in a few other festivities for the weekend. On Sunday, this included a visit to The Center for Puppetry Arts to see a performance by The Ghastly Dreadfuls. The official title this year is actually, The Ghastly Dreadfuls II: Handbook of Practical Hauntings and Other Phantasmagoria.
When the idea to check this show out was presented to me, I apathetically agreed to doing so but left it at that. A puppet show…okay. Sounds good. Whatever. I soon learned that the Ghastly Dreadfuls are far more than a puppet show, and far more entertaining than I had initially imagined. The Ghastly Dreadfuls, themselves, are a group of seven vastly talented musicians, actors and puppeteers. Their show combines all three of these art forms into a very slick, very engaging performance.
On the music front, they move around their instruments with a skillful ease. No one seemed to miss a beat. Using keys as the backbone, they dealt out a number of macabre originals, as well as more popular songs, both classical and contemporary. Everyone shared in the singing duties, though their soprano, Reay Kaplan (as Lady Dreadful) stole the show numerous times. Also of particular note is their absolutely affecting string section, comprised of Scott Depoy (as Dizzily Dreadful) on violin and Kristen Jarvis (as Daftly Dreadful) on cello. These two elements added immensely to the dynamics of the sound. Said sound, itself, resonated around the room with crystal clear acoustics. Sound designers, Elisheba Ittoop and Mimi Epstein, were wholly on top of their game in this regards.
As for the acting and puppetry aspects, they basically depicted several spooky stories from around the world, including some originals. These stories were largely predictable, mainly because most people have heard similar versions of them already at one time or another. This was no matter, though, for the execution was fantastic. There was a large variety of puppet mediums used, from hand puppets to marionettes to large cardboard cartoons. Sometimes the puppets and the people interacted with each other as part of the storyline. Whatever the case, there was no lack of emotional gravity. Mostly, it was humorous, but they also delved into some disturbingly sad material (The Deep End of the Pool) and also displayed moments that were downright touching (11:59).
The whole thing culminates into a finale (“All Hallows’ Eve”) that manages to be eerie and uplifting at once. As strange new lights appear, the performers console us: “Open up your eyes / Take a look around / No one ever dies / What is lost is found.” The effect is stirring and a perfect close to the show.
The Ghastly Dreadfuls’ performances are running until November 1st at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. If you are anywhere near the southeastern United States, this is completely worth your time and money. It should be noted, however, that the material is not exactly for children.
Co-writer, Jason von Hinezmeyer, put together this sampling of last year’s show. It’s out of focus and certainly doesn’t convey the quality of the actual show, but it might give you an idea of what you are missing…