by JEDD FERRIS
On August 7 of last year Phish played a show at the Blossom Music Center in Ohio. During the first set the band delivered a cover of Ween’s “Roses are Free,” a song that’s been in occasional rotation since 1997. Then something unexpected happened. Guitarist Trey Anastasio stepped up to his microphone and made a plea to the defunct band’s founders, Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo. “Guys it’s time to get back together and start playing again,” Anastasio said. “Aaron and Mickey I hope you hear that. Ween, one of my all-time favorite bands, time to get back together and start playing. You heard it here first.”
Fast forward three months to mid November, when it was revealed Anastasio was indeed on to something, as Ween announced two reunion shows at Broomfield’s 1STBANK Center that will take place February 12 and 13, 2016. Due to high demand, a third show was added shortly after for February 14. All three sold out instantly.
For fans of the popular cult rock band, the upcoming shows offer hope that Ween is indeed back on track after an an odd and embarrassing breakup that took place through magazine quotes and social media posts. In May of 2012 Rolling Stone published an interview with Freeman, who was quoted saying, “I’m retiring Gene Ween,” and went on to add, “It’s been a long time, 25 years. It was a good run.”
It was a surprising way to break the news to the band’s loyal tribe, and making it even stranger was the small detail that apparently Freeman forgot to tell Melchiondo—his bandmate since 1984—who responded on Facebook with, “This is news to me, all I can say for now I guess.”
Definitely a weird way to split up for a group that spent more that two decades building a dedicated following behind its wild, stylistically diverse sound of oddball alt-rock. But, truth be told, the breakup was not entirely unexpected. Ween shows were always notoriously big parties, and, onstage, the band members often seemed to be indulging just as much as the crowd. Freeman’s admitted battle with alcohol abuse got the best of him at a 2011 (the last year the band performed) tour stop in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was too intoxicated to sing coherently and was eventually left on stage alone by his band mates.
In the years since the breakup, both Ween principles have remained musically active. In addition to chartering fishing trips on his boat, Melchiondo reunited his old side project the Moistboyz and toured with the remaining members of Ween’s most recent line-up as the Dean Ween Group. Freeman, who claims he left Ween in order to get clean, formed a new band called Freeman that released an eponymous solo album in 2014. On the record he acknowledged his past troubles in songs like “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man” and he even spilled his thoughts on the Vancouver incident in “Covert Discretion.”
Melchiondo always seemed to believe a reunion was inevitable. Soon after the breakup he told MTV: “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. This isn’t something you can quit. This is a life sentence.”
When you hear the bizarre originality of Ween’s music, it indeed seems that Freeman’s and Melchiondo’s greatest chance at success will always be together. The duo met in a middle school typing class in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and soon after started making music together. For many years, it was just the two of them playing quirky songs while backed by a pre-recorded drum track, and while it would be easiest to describe Ween as an alternative rock band, through the years—and a discography that includes 11 studio albums—the group proved willing to dabble in a limitless range of styles.
Crowds were always riled up by the band’s punk-flavored fist-pumpers that often included bawdy lyrics about diseases, drugs and debauchery, but the band was always full of random surprises. They once went to Nashville, hired a crack band and made a country record, and on their last record, 2007’s La Cucaracha they had David Sanborn deliver a smooth sax solo on the standout “Your Party.” The band flirted with the mainstream with songs like “Push th’ Little Daisies” and “Voodoo Lady,” but, like Phish, Ween is largely an underground phenomenon with its own die-hard fan base and insider lore (like the band’s mythical logo character the “Boognish”).
The Front Range arena shows will mark a new, presumably sober, chapter for a band that will likely spend much of the year playing to the biggest crowds in its history, thanks to reunion momentum. The band has signed on with Red Light Management, the same company that helped Anastasio get back on stage with Phish after his own drug troubles, and Freeman and Melchiondo appear to be getting back together for the right reasons. In a press statement announcing the Colorado shows, Freeman said, “I can’t wait to get on that stage and hear how happy this makes people.”