Rather than a set list thick on songs from their classic middle period, Ween concentrated on songs that were either very old or relatively new.
For such an erratic, notoriously hard-partying band, Ween has gotten a mite predictable lately. Their early albums were home-recorded, drug-addled rides through a psychotic's jukebox; in their major label period they released a concept album, an all-country album and a startlingly uncommercial double live album.
In recent years, however, the brothers Ween have settled into what could be described as respectable middle age. Although they still contain plenty of drugs, sex, salty language and political incorrectness, their past three releases all fit basically the same mold and they've been touring with the same core group for ages. While their shows maintain their reputation for wild shifts in mood and songs from all across their career, the whole thing was getting just a little bit routine.
So while their newest album, "La Cucaracha," isn't groundbreaking, on their tour in its support Dean and Gene Ween are beginning to display a welcome restlessness. Lesser-known songs from the "Shinola, Vol. 1" rarities collection and the peppy "Friends" EP are replacing well-worn "Chocolate and Cheese" tunes in the set list and the band is revisiting songs from its mildly received recent records.
Last Thursday in Denver, the result was a very engaging show that was a contrast to their last several appearances in Colorado. Rather than a set list thick on songs from their classic middle period, Ween concentrated on songs that were either very old or relatively new. That made for an evening that was alternately remarkable, as songs like "Transdermal Celebration" and "Back to Basom" began to come into their own for the first time, and entertainingly derailed, as when Gene forgot the words to "I'm in the Mood to Move" or the whole group lurched back and forth through "Awesome Sound."
As they continue to record and tour, Ween is at a distinct risk of losing their creative edge, as once happened to the Grateful Dead. There are good things about having a fanatically devoted, uncritical cult -- even after leaving their label, Ween is thriving in the digital-distribution era -- but with their shows having become attractions in and of themselves without regard to the quality of the performances, the pressure to continue delivering artistically is sure to reduce.
From their gig Thursday, it can be judged that they're making an effort to keep things interesting. By playing more songs from further out of the regular rotation, they're challenging themselves in the right way. Now, they have to take a similarly revisionist attitude to the writing and recording of their next disc.
Here is Ween's set list:
"What Deaner Was Talkin' About"
"Piss Up a Rope"
"Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)"
"Bananas and Blow"
"Learnin' To Love"
"Take Me Away"
"Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)"
"Woman and Man"
"Happy Colored Marbles"
"With My Own Bare Hands"
"Roses Are Free"
"Push th' Little Daisies"
"Help Me Scrape the Mucous Off My Brain"
"You Were the Fool"
"Back to Basom"
"Squelch the Weasel"
"Buenas Tardes Amigo"
"The Going Gets Tough from the Getgo"
"I'm in the Mood To Move"