In a neighboring universe not so far away from this one, Ween are bigger than U2 or Led Zeppelin. Somehow, in our dimension, the duo's transgressive humor and tape-warped vocals have masked their scar

In a neighboring universe not so far away from this one, Ween are bigger than U2 or Led Zeppelin. Somehow, in our dimension, the duo's transgressive humor and tape-warped vocals have masked their scary proficiency, mastery of all musical styles and incredible flexibility and force as a live outfit. But a Ween show provides temporary entry into this strange reality where Dean and Gene Ween are monsters of rock and the brief appearance of "Push th' Little Daisies" on the Australian top 40 was only the beginning of decades of commercial and artistic dominance.

Arriving with fanfare in Boulder, Colorado for a three-night stand, Ween proved its powers have yet to peak. Packing both the Boulder and Fox Theaters, Dean and Gene and their longtime backing group of Dave Dreiwitz (bass), Claude Coleman (drums) and Glenn McClelland (keys) held court for three hours at a time, with no opening bands and few breaks. Once Ween gets rolling, they're hard to stop, and they're likely to dust off songs from anywhere in their mighty catalog. Indeed, between the two shows on Dec. 2-3, they only repeated three songs.

The first show, while as wide-ranging as one would expect, was mostly a showcase for the friendlier, poppier side of the band. "Daisies" got an airing, as did like-minded ditties like "Don't Laugh (I Love You)," "Roses Are Free" and "What Deaner Was Talking About." Ween play pop as well as anybody, with Gener (Aaron Freeman) leading the way with his distinctive vocals and Deaner (Mickey Melchiondo) carefully picking his spots for his virtuoso guitar leads.

One of the most exciting things about Ween as a live band is the new life the group as a five-piece breathes into oddities from their formative years. "Touch My Tooter" became a power chord-driven anthem. "Springtheme" outgrew the tape hiss of its original recording to become waves of seductive funk. The jazzy nugget "Never Squeal" from the band's debut, "GodWeenSatan: The Oneness," was the unlikely platform for a lengthy Coleman drum solo.

Sprinkled in to the set were some new tunes (notably the sprightly "Light Me Up Before You Kill Me") and some real oddities ("Albino Sunburned Girl," "Homo Rainbow"). The relative unavailability of some of these tracks had little effect on the reverent crowd, who sang along whenever possible and made up their own words when necessary.

The next night was longer and "browner," opening up with an acoustic set and blossoming into some unhinged jams, particularly on "Voodoo Lady" and "A Tear for Eddie." Late in the show, Gene began taking requests from the crowd and uncorking some prime Ween gems, one after another: "Sorry Charlie," "Cover It with Gas and Set It On Fire," "Frank" and "Papa Zit." Dean howled over a Dreiwitz bass workout on "Pumpin' 4 the Man," while the unsettling "Fluffy" shuffled into a long, psychedelic and loud jam. The band let it all hang out for a bizarre first encore (featuring gems like "Mushroom Festival in Hell," "Tick," and the demented "Fat Lenny") then pulled in the reins to play "Buenas Tardes Amigos" with restrained hand percussion and a spooky Deaner harmonized guitar solo.

It's hard, maybe impossible, to explain what makes Ween work to someone who's not familiar with them. They certainly can't be accused of taking themselves seriously, yet if you strip away the bathroom humor, Ween's genre-crossing is far more sincerely felt homage than cheap exploitation.

Quite simply, the boys can play. Dean gets far too little credit as one of the most creative and resourceful guitar players of the alternative era. Gene, although not as young as he once was (he strains a bit to carry the falsetto "Freedom of '76"), is a powerful lead singer. McClelland is a gifted soloist ("Even If You Don't") and colorist, and Coleman and Dreiwitz play their roles perfectly.

What once was the band's gimmick (they'll play anything) has become the secret to their strength (they'll play anything). Their recorded catalog is sturdy enough to inspire devotion and memorization from the faithful, but the live band confidently wanders into strange places from familiar songs. Besides, if there's been a better drinking song written than "The Blarney Stone," I'd like to hear it.

Here are Ween's set lists:

Dec. 1:

"Don't Sh*t Where You Eat"
"The Golden Eel"
"Baby Bitch"
"Light Me Up Before You Kill Me"
"Touch My Tooter"
"Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)"
"Roses Are Free"
"Albino Sunburned Girl"
"Push th' Little Daisies"
"She's Your Baby"
"Final Alarm"
"Mr. Richard Smoker"
"Waving My D*ck in the Wind"
"Stroker Ace"
"Awesome Sound"
"The Mollusk"
"Don't Laugh (I Love You)"
"Dr. Rock"
"The Goin' Gets Tough from the Getgo"
"Never Squeal"
"Powder Blue"
"You F*cked Up"
"Sketches of Winkle"


"I'm Holding You"
"P*ss Up a Rope"
"Big Jilm"
"Ace of Spades"
"What Deaner Was Talking About"
"Tender Situation"
"Homo Rainbow"

Dec. 2:

"Birthday Boy"
"Chocolate Town"
"Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brian"
"Tried and True"
"I Don't Want It"
"She Wanted To Leave"
"Now I'm Freaking Out"
"Back to Basom"
"Take Me Away"
"Hey There Fancypants"
"Transdermal Celebration"
"Freedom of '76"
"Puertorican Power"
"Voodoo Lady"
"Light Me Up Before You Kill Me"
"The Mollusk"
"A Tear for Eddie"
"The Argus"
"Stay Forever"
"Ocean Man"
"Captain Fantasy"
"Papa Zit"
"You F*cked Up"
"Pumpin' 4 the Man"
"Buckingham Green"
"Can You See Me"
"Polka Dot Tail"
"Cover It With Gas and Set It on Fire"
"She F*cks Me"
"Even If You Don't"
"Waving My D*ck in the Wind"
"The Blarney Stone"

Encore 1:

"Licking the Palm for Guava"
"Mushroom Festival in Hell"
"Fat Lenny"
"Sorry Charlie"

Encore 2:

"Buenas Tardes Amigo"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard