Be Grateful I Saved Me From Myself
For Naptownmusic by Houston Zemanski
A water bottle and a medium Dunkin' Donuts cup sit center stage. I'm at a table by myself on the far side of the room. I can hear orders being shouted in the kitchen and clanking dishes. A signed picture of Citizen Cope stares whimsically into my back. Around the room are one hundred different versions of myself: white, unkempt, twenty-somethings with big goofy smiles and raucous laughs.
I'm here to see cult superstar Aaron Freeman, formerly “Gene Ween” of nineties odd-rock band Ween. A small round of applause brings forward more whistles and handclaps until a general din fills the room. There's Freeman (performing as FREEMAN), and a young man with shaggy blonde hair, a la Kurt Cobain, who the audience will later come to know as Joe Young. They make their way onto stage. Each has a generic looking acoustic guitar.
For those unfamiliar with Ween, the “experimental” tag often following their name hardly captures the range of genres they've been able to emulate. It's hard to label any band as 'comedic' without the description going hand in hand with gimmickry, but Ween is so sincere in their songwriting that it almost alleviates the novelty. Freeman (whose recent drug and alcohol fueled hiatus from the band landed him in a self-imposed rehabilitation), emulates this style in his song crafting, though now his material is much more mature. He wastes no time in introducing us to his new self-titled album, first playing “Black Bush” and then one of the two singles “English and Western Stallions.” Catchy and played with a sense of ease that has undoubtedly come from years of touring, the song is met by admiration and glee by all in attendance. The lyrics could be nonsense, but recent events in Freeman's life seem to note a strong undercurrent. Small spots of dissonance and a few rowdy shouts punctuate the otherwise relaxed mood.
The audience gets their first two Ween songs back to back, as “Chocolate Town” and “Your Party” break any band inspired tension. As the set moves on, Freeman seems happy to let Young take the bulk of complicated guitar work. Simultaneously, Young seems to get more and more comfortable in his spot alongside Freeman, offering up blistering acoustic solos; he turns the heads of more than one server as they bustle back and forth from the kitchen.
As the set comes to a close, the second single from the album, “(For a While) I Couldn't Play My Guitar Like A Man,” draws the biggest round of applause yet. Somber, pressing, and reflective, the lyrics are plain and clear. “Go ahead Joe, play that guitar like a man,” Freeman bids, and Young responds with his most impressive solo yet. Catcalls and whistles scream through the air. At the close, those in the audience waste no time getting to their feet. As the two musicians begin to pack up their things Freeman nonchalantly quips: “Yeah, yeah we'll be back in a second. Show business.”
For his encore, Freeman graciously asks the audience what they want to hear. A few overzealous individuals call out Ween song titles, and are met with a beaming Freeman granting each request. “Bananas and Blow” and “Right To the Ways and the Rules of the World” close things up for good as Freeman and Young head off stage.
I finish the last few sips of beer in my glass and sit for a minute to make some additions to my notes. Aaron Freeman could be a genius, or he could be another washed up musician trying to eke out a living as a solo artist. It doesn't matter. What he made clear tonight through his laughter and nearly perpetual smile is that he's back to having fun as a musician. As Freeman says himself over the wispy, melancholy, finger-picking of “Covert Discretion,” “Save your judgments for someone else.”