This is the year, innit?
End of everything, our planet shattering into sand and the dust of what we once were strewn throughout the cosmos, seven billion souls snuffed out to join the remains of the several billion that preceded, the entire mess of old and new corpses mixed like smoke in a saloon and blown slowly out the door into the cold, uncaring night, dispersing into the skies and slinking to the edge of the galaxy? December 21st of this year, I hear, less than a week before the Feast of St. Stephen, the whole thing we call “life as we know it” goes the way of Michelle Bachman’s presidential aspirations, making everyone’s Christmas shopping an exercise in futility, and putting a damper on everyone’s New Year’s plans in 51 weeks.
Despite all we think we’ve learned about space and time, cause and effect, and other useless details arising from empiricism, the ancient Mayans were attuned to something special, magical and metaphysical, determining thousands of years ago that a specific day this year would be the moment that, yes, we’d have no bananas. Considering they had that all figured out without modern technologies such as computers, Magic 8-balls, Ouija boards or differential calculus, we silly moderns must (Really. We must.) look back at their superior methods of deduction, laugh at their clothes but admire their ability to turn a bucket of guts into energy-free interstellar travel, or at least eliminating the need for personal hygiene.
Really, the ancients apparently had it totally dialed in, as far as enlightenment- and wisdom-wise. Sure, we might have smart phones, central heating and air, the ability to travel anywhere in the world (even if we now have to pay to check our baggage), tons of food (and other resources) we can secure with a small piece of processed petroleum and a life expectancy that has essentially tripled during the last century; the ancients would have scoffed at all those so-called “conveniences” and “luxuries” and “improvements in the quality of life,” instead relying on the knowledge that carving holes in the skull would release evil vapors from the head of the afflicted (presumably someone sick enough to suggest that life was not so terrific way back then). Perspicaciously aware of the problems that overpopulation would lead to, the ancients would respond to epidemics, famines, floods, wars, plagues or comets with some dilatory dancing, chanting some wisdom and waving a sack full of bones and magic herbs around, giving the rest of the impoverished, illiterate, rickety, sore-infested population the impression that at least something was being done (other than the obvious digging a huge hole where the resulting dead would be buried).
Wily and wise they were, realizing that shoes would eventually lead humanity into a spiral of effete self-contemplation and that lightning would eventually lead to hours wasted on Facebook. Therefore, we ignore the Mayan calendar at our own peril and if you’re not blanking out the last ten days of your day planners with block letters saying, “Gaaaahhhhh!!! We’re all DEAD!!!”” — well, if you want to keep to paying your insurance policies past Dec. 21 instead of applying that money towards a few quarts of Johnny Walker Black and a carton of Camels — don’t start whining about not having any fun when the Earth cracks in two and a volcano pops up through your porch.
Not one to trifle with revelations inherent in big rocks covered with hieroglyphs, I’ve started my year-long preparation for the big day — signing up for credit cards I have no intention of paying off, taking out numerous magazine subscriptions and cashing out my 401K. Of course, my entire holiday shopping was planned around “six-month-same-as-cash” financing schemes (the remaining months after that, I just won’t bother answering my phone or checking mail).
Plans began panning out almost immediately, scoring my first big pre-apocalyptic party at the Fillmore in Denver last Friday night. Earlier this year, I’d told Loml, “If you really love me, you’ll make sure I see Ween before I die.” Bless her heart, she likewise recognized the gravitas endowed by naked guys with eagle heads and snakes in their beak, and so purchased us a pair of tickets for the Dec. 30 show, illustrating that she really does love me, ensuring that I’d see Ween before the whole of humanity is reduced to smithereens.
It was an awesome gift considering that I’d been dying to see Ween for well over a decade, ever since I’d heard my first bootleg in the mid-’90s. Although I loved the “Voodoo Lady” single (it made it onto numerous mixes I’d made, violating my usual rule of repeating songs in various lists) and later determined that “The Mollusk” was one of my favorite albums of 1997, their bootlegs had me convinced that it was a band I was determined to see live.
For those of you who are wondering who Ween is, well, the explanation is complicated. Playing a mix of punk, funk, country, metal, folk and plain old rock, the band is not eclectic for the sake of being smart but as a genuine expression of affection for the adoration of the music they so obviously love. In turns Zappa and the Mothers (with all of Frank’s humor but lacking the orchestral and jazz flourishes), Queen, Funkadelic, Sly Stone, The Residents, The Misfits, Pink Floyd and so many others, Ween never sounds derivative or apish (or mawkish). Often sophomoric, usually cerebral, always tinged with consciousness altering substances, Ween’s music is almost never anything but loaded with fun.
I thought about writing a column a couple years back to explain why Ween is one of the great underrated bands of our time. Not exactly indie or alt-Rock, not exactly straight-ahead rock and roll, Ween is one of those incredible bands that consistently, unerringly defies the straightjacket of radio programming that seems to grow more and more stratified.
One thing that has mystified me about Ween has been their esteem with the jam band crowd; their sound by no means fits the bland roots/blues/jug band/Dead-ish drivel that by and large makes so much jam so incredibly boring. As I waited in line outside of the Fillmore, I saw enough Widespread Panic shirts to cause some trepidation. Inside and just a few feet from center stage, crowded by hipsters, neo-hippies, nerds and geeks (guys making me miss the time, over 20 years ago, when I had all my hair, girls making me think hard that I was there with Loml), I listened to conversations regarding what songs they hoped they’d hear Ween play’ — titles that made me aware that I was a casual fan standing among true believers.
I was afraid I’d been placed inside a Phish bowl.
Opening with, “Exactly Where I’m At,” almost immediately alleviated my fears, and by the time Ween lit into “The Grobe,” I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
I’ll spare you the set list (on the WestWord site, if you’re interested), but it’s worth noting my highlights since I got to hear so many songs I’d hoped to hear. “Voodoo Lady,” sped up and adding Prince’s “Kiss” into the middle, had me a complete convert to the magic. With “Monique the Freak,” “Chocolate Town,” “Ocean Man,” “Big Jim” (of course I was dying to see that), “Wayne’s Pet Youngin’,” as well as “I Can’t Put My Finger On It” and “Captain Fantasy,” and I would have been on my knees, bowing, had I not been on my feet dancing and delirious.
Ten songs into the show, the tone shifted into a softer acoustic set, with “Joppa Road,” “Flutes of the Chi,” and “Drifter in the Dark,” unplugged but no less rockin’. Indeed, two songs later, a mosh pit formed behind us and I had to plant my boots firmly into the floor to keep Loml and me from taking a header into the security railing.
A hilariously spot-on cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” halfway through the show had the rest of the crowd also convinced that we were witnessing something that was once-in-a-lifetime. Writing this two days after the show, I continue to maintain that it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen (high praise from someone who has seen hundreds of concerts, many by the biggest names in rock). Running well over three hours (with no intermission), Ween proved to everyone attending that, while they might leave the stage exhausted, they’d send the crowd home feeling equally as drained’ — and sated.
Alas, with the imminent demise of us all, it seems I’ll never have a chance to see Ween again. That sucks, of course. Not the end of the world; that’s almost mundane at this point considering that most of us have lived through dozens of dire predictions. If not the chiliastic paranoia of Y2K, then various rapturous prognostications, near misses by near-Earth objects, solar misbehavior or nuclear annihilation; it’s always something, year-to-year. No, what sucks is that I want to see Ween again, and the Mayans have said, no dice dude.
No matter, I’m a happy man. If it’s the end of the world as we know it, I’ve seen Ween.