After boosting Ween for years, a friend of mine decided he would finally check them out. But instead of asking for a recommendation or finding a good starting point online, he loaded up Spotify and listened to The Pod. If you’re a fan of Ween you probably know how funny this is; regardless of your opinion on The Pod I think it’s safe to say that it’s absolutely the wrong place to start with Ween. My friend reacted accordingly; at first ranting on about how they were none of the things their fans said they were, then almost getting mad at me for even recommending them in the first place, as though I was pulling some kind of prank on him the whole time.
Well, yeah. Early Ween is really divisive. Their first three albums – often referred to as the band’s “brown period”, are all long, druggy, and full of inside jokes. I mean, some of these songs are damn great, but they can be a chore. I’d say their debut GodWeenSatan: The Oneness is probably the best of the three, drawing from the best of band’s first five years of existence. Of course the catch is some of these songs were written when the guys were literally kids, and it sure sounds like it too. The Pod and Pure Guava are much stranger albums; Pure Guava is almost doubly so since it was the group’s major label release, an album so strange that the label wound up choosing “Push th’ Little Daisies” as the single.
Those three albums will hold a special place in my collection – there’s nothing like ’em really, but I don’t exactly find myself listening to them a whole lot. They’re too long, have too many non-songs, and aren’t exactly produced the greatest. Besides, everyone knows that live Ween is where it’s at, and At the Cat’s Cradle is about as unique and hilarious a live document as you can ask for. I mean, it’s no secret that these guys are funny, but I’ve probably laughed more listening to this album than all their other ones combined.
“We’ve been on tour for nine and a half months now. We must have been really good last time we were here. Half the amount of people are here. Wait until you see how good we are now, after nine and a half months.” That is the sort of humor that’s so prevalent on this album. On their very first song, a “totally spontaneous decision” to play “Big Jilm” (as the band at this time was two guys and a DAT machine, obviously every song had to be preprogrammed), not only do they screw up the lyrics (“I forget the rest of the words”, mumbles Dean two lines into the song), but they also interrupt the song to point out that they recognize one of the guys in the audience as being from South Carolina. After the song: “How do you like Ween so far?” (and then: “I think I just hit the record button on the DAT man, I think I just recorded over ‘Never Squeal on the Pusher'”).
The reason for all this, as Gene and Dean will tell you, is that they “smoked too much opium” and therefore seem to exist on a different planet than the rest of their audience. Ween are no stranger to playing fucked up – hell, they’d be doing it until the bitter end, and really it’s wound up eventually killing the band. Still, it’s really entertaining to hear them play this way; they’re not really sloppy, just prone to forgetting stuff (an entire verse on “Don’t Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy”) or getting lost in their tape machine (“Marble Tulip Juicy Tree”, which ends on a mutilated vocal sample, or “Buckingham Green” which features a fake mellotron line that Dean dubs the bands “all time low point”; it later ends in several minutes of garbled up noise). Occassionally they mess up some things on the DAT which results in some entertaining moments where a drum track or keyboard bit will get doubled or otherwise frigged up (sometimes intentionally, such as when they rewind the whole vocal track at the end of “Don’t Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy” just so they can do the a capella part over again – “best part of our whole show”, they remark)
Though Ween have released a lot of live albums over the years (not to mention the hundreds of bootlegs available), none of them are quite like this. Ween would become known for stretching their boundaries live, playing a different set list every night and expanding certain tunes to the half-hour mark and beyond. But here, there’s nothing to hide behind; their weirder impulses come out front and center and their only chance to do something different is between the songs. It just don’t get any browner than this, folks.