It’s hard to believe that the duo of Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) and Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) has been together as cult indie rock act Ween for 25 years. Long before adult comedy rock acts like Tenacious D entertained a mainstream audience with its blend of operatic acoustic and heavy rock, this incredibly versatile duo from New Hope, Pennsylvania confounded, sometimes mildly offended but mostly won over legions of fans with a free-form blend of everything from the classifiable to the unclassifiable; they touched on heavy metal, glam rock, antipop, satire, drug-induced comedy rock, punk, country-ish grooves and more, all with relatively lo-fi production.
Ween have released several live recordings over the years, including a few on its own label Chocodog, such as Live In Toronto, Canada and Live In Chicago, which focused on the bands’ 1996 and 2003 tours, respectively. The Cat’s Cradle, 1992 CD/DVD (co-released with MVD Audio), is “the brownest CD on the Chocodog label yet,” as Dean Ween said a few months back.
Though Ween is now a band of five, this lost treasure of live performances captures the group arguably at its rawest and finest as a duo (occasional screwups aside), with help from live sound engineer Kirk Miller and a Yamaha DAT deck that substitutes for bass and drums. The audio centers on Ween’s 21-song performance at the Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina, while the home video that makes up the 17-song bonus DVD highlights stops in the Netherlands in 1991, as well as New Jersey and Ohio in 1992.
Much of the setlists of both discs center around the duo’s first three records, God Ween Satan: The Oneness (1990), The Pod (1991), and Pure Guava (1992), which should thrill Ween’s older fans.
Early gems include the classic rock-ish “Tick” and the glam rock of “Captain Fantasy.” Gene Ween yells his way through the metallic and short “You Fucked Up,” a song written about his “bitch” and during which Dean Ween slips in a Hendrix riff from “3rd Stone From The Sun.” The dreamy, laidback French pop of “Ode To Rene,” sung in French (until the f-bomb at song’s end) is another highlight from the audio disc, as is the outrageously funny and f-bomb-filled “Reggaejunkiejew.”
Every fan knows of Ween’s drug-induced humor, but as the 45-minute live DVD shows, they write mind-altering ballads too, like “Don’t Laugh, I Love You,” which on video looks and sounds like the prettiest stoner love song George Harrison never wrote. Another must-see image is Dean Ween going berserk on his axe, going so far as to play and solo with a beer bottle near the end (in place of an actual bottleneck slide, I guess).
Overall, this overdue release opens the vaults to loads of early live Ween gems, some rare, some raw. It represents the best – and in some instances, flaws – about Ween as a duo, before they evolved into a jam-friendly type of group. Never a band to take seriously or that takes themselves seriously, Ween knows how to make the most out of a two-man performance, and if you’re a major fan, you should seriously check this essential Cat’s Cradle CD/DVD out.