Ween is reuniting, and we have Umphrey’s McGee and Phish to thank for it
Today, November 16, 2015, one of the most sought after reunions in the music world was announced. The Brothers Ween are going to be on the same stage once again.
It was unknown to even Dean and Gene Ween that they wouldn’t be performing together again after the 2011 three-night New Year’s Eve run at the famous Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, CO (which, incidentally, is where Umphrey’s is playing their New Year’s Eve run this year). It seemed that it had gotten to be too much for Gener, who is known as Aaron Freeman to those who don’t know better. The “breakup” was even more of a surprise to Deaner, or Mickey Melchiondo, who had no idea of Freeman’s intentions of retiring the “Gene Ween” moniker until Rolling Stone magazine broke the story on May 29, 2012. Deaner stated via Facebook that “This is news to me, all I can say for now I guess”. Must have come as quite the shock to the guy who considered himself to be Freeman’s brother up to that point.
Or maybe not. Maybe he had a little bit of an idea that things were getting slippery with Gener. January 24, 2011, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, Gener was having a pretty bad time. Or maybe Deaner was. Either way, the show ended with Freeman on stage by himself, the other four musicians that made up the performing incarnation of Ween having left in disgust. Freeman was visibly intoxicated, so much so that he couldn’t really perform, not well anyway. This incident led to Freeman penning “Covert Discretion”, which would ultimately appear on his debut album, a self-titled work with a band called simply Freeman, in 2014. (Edited for clarity: “Freeman” was NOT Aaron’s debut solo album. He has maintained a solo career for a very long time, with solo works dating back to the 1987 release, “Synthetic Socks”. In 2008, he launched the Gene Ween Band, four years before the split with Melchiondo. “Freeman” was the debut album of the band Freeman, which was formed in 2014. His first solo album under the name Aaron Freeman was “Marvelous Clouds”, a 2012 release that was entirely cover versions of Rod McKuen songs. My apologies to Aaron Freeman, and to any Freeman fans.)
Later in 2011, Deaner released a collection of songs called The Caesar Demos, many of which ended up on Ween’s 2003 album Quebec, but also included several tracks of material that had never been heard before. Freeman was upset by this, posting on the Ween.net Forum “The Caesar demo release was the straw that broke the camels back. Nobody asked Gener before releasing…Deaner broke the golden rule. the Boognish wept that day.” Yet, even with the widening rift between them, the duo continued to play and tour together for the remainder of the year, right up to that New Year’s run.
During a break the following year, which ended up actually being a “breakup”, Gene decided that he would not be Gene anymore. He was now Aaron Freeman again. This confused and upset Dean, but he carried on by forming The Dean Ween Group and reuniting an older project called Moistboyz. In a later interview, he was quoted as saying “I can only speak for myself, but as far as I’m concerned, as long as Aaron and I are both alive on this planet, Ween is still together. We’ve never broken up. The idea of quitting is just laughable. This isn’t something you can quit. This is a life sentence.” In another post to the Ween Forum after Deaner’s statement, Freeman posted that, for him, “All that matters to me is that I’m getting sober. Becoming an out of control drug addict and alcoholic is my own fault and I take responsibility for it. I HAD to leave the Ween organization to stay sober.”
This is where it gets weird for me.
See, in that same thread, which began as a response to Deaner basically telling Gener and everyone else to stop all the bullshit that was going on in the aftermath of the breakup, Freeman said quite a few things, but perhaps none so confusing as this: “Ween was founded on the premis (sic) of alienation torward (sic) the masses, showing them the true meaning of Brown and being held accountable to nothing but the Boognish. It was/had turned into some Umphries McGee (sic) bullshit and I love Ween too much to see that happen.”
Why the sudden stab out at my and your favorite band? Why the need to slander a band that has done things their own way, alienating themselves from the pop music masses and ignoring the standard major record label formula for success, creating amazing music in the studio and even more amazing live performances with improv and an actual appreciation and friendship for each other? Is it because you missed what you used to have with Deaner before your own personal bullshit got in the way of the vision that you two had for Ween? What exactly did you stand to gain from this, Gener?
And… I guess an even more confusing question for me to ask is, did you still feel this way about Umphrey’s when you stepped on stage as Gene Ween again for the first time since hanging it up? When they were playing your music while you felt the thrill of putting on the persona of Gener again?
Back in 2012, when the Ween Forum posts were made, Joel Cummins responded. First he sounded pissed, then he sounded classy, and then he sounded grateful/sarcastic. I can understand all of those responses. What I can’t understand is why there was a need to make those responses. Gene shouldn’t have even made those statements, but I suppose that I can let it go, as he was still dealing with recovering from his addictions.
Fast-forward to a few weeks before Summer Camp 2015, and a huge announcement was posted. Gene Ween would once again take the stage, with Umph playing a full set of Ween tunes, and under the name Godboner. As I was picking my face up in the Tabernacle last New Year’s, Brendan made the joke that they would no longer be going by the name Umphrey’s McGee, but would be called Godboner from then on. Lulz, Brendan. Lulz. But it makes me wonder… Did the boys know something about Summer Camp back then? Or did this just kinda get thrown together?
And, also, just because I’m curious… How was it, Joel? Any tension there, either in front of the crowd or backstage?
Maybe Gene is getting better. Maybe he’s really okay this time. “You don’t blow it on stage, lying on your back, screaming nonsense in front of 5,000 people and not try to change something,” he said in an interview last year with The Chicagoist, speaking about the Vancouver show from early 2011. “Chances are when you’re doing something like that, you’ve got to do something differently.”
And, with his performance as the singer for Godboner, it seems that the Boognish has reawakened something in Gener. After Summer Camp, he performed a couple more shows as Gene instead of Freeman. And, at Phish’s stellar show at Blossom Music Center in Ohio this summer, after he and the boys played a fire rendition of Roses Are Free (a song that has almost become as much Phish’s as it is Ween’s), Trey called out to the Ween brothers to put bygones aside and get back together.
And now we hear that Ween is reuniting. For a couple of shows in February, anyway. Maybe this is Gene testing the waters to see if he can stay clean while playing with his old band? And, do we owe it to Umphrey’s McGee and Phish? Should all Weeners give thanks and praise to these two bands, one of which Gener himself took shots at?
Alas, I am torn. When I heard that Umphrey’s was playing a Ween set at Summer Camp, and realizing that, other than a couple of songs I didn’t really know much about Ween’s catalog, I dove in headfirst. Watched shows, listened to studio albums and live albums, read up a little on the history and the breakup (although, I didn’t find the info about the shots that Gener took at Umph until I sat down to write this). I quickly became a fan. I enjoyed what they did, and the wide array of genres they could touch on, not only in a set, but in a single song. Not my favorite, of course, but I respect what they do. Hell, I would even go see a show, if it was close enough to me.
So, yeah, fuck it. I say give thanks. Regardless of Gene’s opinion on my and your favorite band, or if the statements were born out of his frail mental state after years of drinking and drugging himself into stupidity, it doesn’t matter. Ween is, in itself, a musical journey. One very different from the one you discover walking into an Umphrey’s show, but, at its core, still very much the same. They can play blues, country, Irish drinking songs, funk, lounge music, punk, metal, whatever. This is Ween I’m talking about. Almost sounded like I was talking about Umphrey’s, didn’t it? And their ability to interact and connect with their audience is rivaled by a very few performers out there.
Maybe Gene can keep it together this time. Maybe he and Dean will announce some additional dates, and do a mini-tour to see if Gener can hang onto the Radio Flyer. Maybe they both have been saving some new material, hoping, somewhere deep down, that they would one day be able to be brothers again. We can only wait and see. But, in the meantime, welcome back Ween.
Update: Apparently, a press release was issued announcing the reunion performances, in which Gene and Dean Ween said that the two shows will be “fucking mind-blowing”, and that they will unveil “new stuff that nobody has ever heard live before”. Maybe they both knew that they could never find/want escape from Boognish.