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Brownout

By Mike Hotter

Ween

Palace Theatre, June 12

‘I got this shirt for 2 dollars and 65 cents!” guitar hero Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) declared from the hallowed stage of the Palace last Tuesday night, beaming proudly between sips of Heineken and ripping guitar solos. It was a bit jarring to witness the Ween boys browning things up in the same place that David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony ply their trade, but the guys were respectful and seemed to be thoroughly impressed by the venue. (Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman almost appeared a little taken aback by the lavishness of the place at first, and would spend an unusual amount of time backstage while the rest of the band played throughout the evening.)

Things kicked off with the straightforward pop of “Exactly Where I’m At,” and all seemed right with the world until a murky mix and Freeman’s strained vocal made a hash out of one of their most beloved songs, “Take Me Away.” But they corrected themselves with a great version of the Stone Temple Pilots pastiche “Transdermal Celebration” (play it after “Interstate Love Song” and you’ll hear what I mean), and the audience started to show their appreciation by tossing bras—and a hamburger bun—onto the stage. If these guys were around in the ’70s they would have been huge, what with Mickey having the guitar chops of a Frank Zappa and Aaron delivering the flamboyantly pretty pop craftsmanship of “Even if You Don’t.” The hard funk of “Voodoo Lady” got everyone bouncing around. (Nothing moves a white guy like the Chili Peppers chop, and one dude even started voguing—very un-Ween of him.)

A priceless Spinal Tap moment occurred when Melchiondo, after much righteous guitar flamethrowing, started using a vocoder, proving that the voicebox contraption makes one look ridiculous even if you aren’t Peter Frampton. “Zoloft” was simply Ween at their best, a rewiring of Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said” that’s as perceptive as it is funny, celebrating the calming effect of antidepressants while also pointing out the insidious apathy they can lead to.

But this is Ween, and thinking too much about any meanings behind the lyrics will only prove problematic. How to love a band if you take a seemingly homophobic song like “Mister Richard Smoker” at face value? If anything, Ween are subverting Big Dumb Rock Clichés by making them so ridiculous one can’t take them seriously. Keyboardist Glenn McClelland had a five-minute solo that was more John Tesh than Jan Hammer (as far as cheese factor, it was more ludicrous than sublime)—but was this just making fun of the old 20-minute versions of “No Quarter” from our Zeppelin bootlegs? Plainly on the sublime side of things was drummer Claude Coleman, who simply kicked ass on the Pure Guava track “Touch My Tooter,” pummeled the shit out of the Motörhead tribute “Stroker Ace,” and managed to make a cowbell solo cool on “Waving My Dick in the Wind.”

At 30-plus songs, the show appeased the fans, and the night was made extra special by a topless girl who jumped on stage during “Push th’ Little Daisies” and proceeded to push her blooming daisies right up into everyone’s face. Me, I was most satisfied by what I felt to be the truest song of the night, “Best Time at Your Party,” a new tune where Gene Ween and “the wife” thank some fellow 30-something for throwing a great dinner party. Among the dick and poopie jokes, it was refreshing to hear what really goes down back at the Ween ranch.

It Was All Yellow

Gustafer Yellowgold

MASS MoCA, June 16

Unless you’re actually allergic to children, you’ve probably got exposure enough to them to realize that their entertainments, nowadays, have to have more than just infantile appeal. As a rule, it seems, parents are no longer comfortable turning their kids out of doors at sunup to go play in the junkyard or at the mouth of the abandoned mineshaft till the dinner bell rings. Instead, they mousse the kids’ hair into fauxhawks, over which they slip tiny Misfits T-shirts, and lug them around from intellectually/aesthetically/culturally/ physically stimulating event to event. It’s high-investment parenting and it seems only fair that the folks get something out of the deal, too.

Morgan Taylor—the musician-illustrator behind Gustafer Yellowgold—is just one of a growing crop of performers whose work is aimed at young audiences, though not necessarily created for them originally. He’s released several albums of quirky indie-pop intended, we assume, for grown-ups; and he has played with the Autumn Defense, a side project of Wilco’s John Stirratt. The Gustafer Yellowgold story evolved from doodles Taylor used to produce while working in a record store and a whimsical, Beatlesesque song titled “I’m From the Sun” culled from one of the aforementioned albums.

As staged at MASS MoCA last Saturday, the Gustafer Yellowgold experience is a bit like a PowerPoint presentation given by a member of the Elephant 6 collective. Taylor’s own—quite charming—illustrations are projected on a screen before which he and his co-vocalist, Rachel Loshak, sing introductions to Gustafer Yellowgold and his friends: the eel, Slimothy; the friendly, flightless pterodactyl, Forrest Applecrumbie; the pet dragon, Asparagus; and Gustafer’s brother, Ben, inventor of both the hot-cheese cannon and rocket shoes.

If it sounds a little silly, it, of course, is. What do you expect at an 11 AM performance? The Ring Cycle? Taylor’s lyrics are gently surreal and playful (Gustafer’s hobby, we’re told, thusly, is pouncing on pastries: “I jump on cake, from high above/I step on pie, so warm and lovely/It’s mine to punt, vanilla bundt/All freshly baked, I’m on your cake.”) The songs are catchy and twee, without being cloying or insulting. Taylor’s stage presence is low-key and wry without being snide. (At one point he commended an elementary-school-age audience member for a quip by saying, “Nice one. In the comedy biz, that’s known as a ‘callback.’ ”)

If there is any problem with Gustafer Yellowgold it’s in the show’s easygoing nature. The songs do introduce the characters, but the show doesn’t do much more with them. We learn that Gustafer lived on the sun, then came to Minnesota in search of a more varied climate; we know that he’s got some unusual pets, and that his brother is a bit of a eccentric. We’re given this info in colorful and eminently hummable ways. But then nothing happens. Easygoing is great; aimless, not so much. I found myself waiting for the point, the lesson—something about making friends, appreciating differences, something After School Special-ish.

Then again, my Neutral Milk Hotel albums didn’t teach me how to share. So, maybe I’m missing the point. And it should be noted that my daughter is still singing that one about the eel.

—John Rodat

PHOTO: John Whipple

Hello, My Name Is . . .

The Capital Region’s own Blotto, in one of their not-infrequent reunions, performed in Troy’s Monument Square Saturday afternoon as one of the many musical acts at the 4th Annual River Street Festival. An estimated 20,000 people passed through, soaking in the sun, sights and sounds at the daylong, family-friendly bash. Other acts included geek-pop elder statesmen They Might Be Giants and Australian-American rockers Mink.

 


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