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“Don’t Rejoice… Live in Chicago Just Makes it Hurt Even More”

So is some famous band going to come in sometime in the near future and “save rock and roll” with a new album? It’s probably not bloody likely, seeing as we treat our messiahs, or anyone with a genuine vision, at that, like lepers, browbeating and condescending entities like “indie rock” into non-existence and living for the lowbrow, in a certainly strange sort of irony. 

Don’t think that Ween don’t see this — they’ve gone since 2007 now since their last new studio album, La Cucaracha (which in my opinion was their worst album to date with the possible exception of Pure Guava or 12 Golden Country Greats) and even though they’ve been touring, aren’t planning a new LP, according to Google. If in the ’90s it were hard to put out a new album as a band and get a fair shake from the press, today it seems more or less impossible, as everyone, critics included, is in this state of desperation that seems to propel them to manufacture negative opinions as a sheer method of achieving relevance or phantom discursive teeth, if you will. 

As recently as, I’d say, 2002, anyway, our culture still seemed to possess the ability to embrace new bands and albums (The Strokes, The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Interpol, or All That You Can’t Leave behind, Z, Hail to the Thief and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, if you prefer) as something sovereign and something of which a casual listen can spawn legitimate enjoyment and edification. Today, it’s just my conception that all burgeoning entities of such nature are subject to a repulsive litany of political litmus tests. Like Pitchfork, for instance, is obsessed with music being “about” something. Well, what greater subject for a rock song could there be than getting up in the morning and petting your cat? It doesn’t get any purer. 

I joke around about this, but in truth, the actuality of the matter is that Ween’s approach to lyricism, when they were in their prime (“Even if You Don’t”; “Roses are Free”), was incredibly deep and broad-sweeping in terms of tactics and techniques. “Even if You Don’t,” as I explain in one post, is, according to my own theory, Ween’s stab at writing a song that would eventually soundtrack a TV sitcom, and with this being the case, possesses a rich variety of images and concepts, as silly as they of course are. “Roses are Free” is a classic American dirge set almost humorously to happy major chords, but redolent of a disturbing caliber of noxiousness and urgency, rife with themes of shifting identities, mortality and a happy, merry Christmas. So for this reason, I suppose, you could say that what they did was epochal. From this, it stands to reason that their work was influenced not only from some innate inner muse but also from contemporaneity, in the sense of existing as a composite ball of all things going on in alternative rock in the ’90s and early 2000s. And with how zany their dispositions could be combined with how hummable the tunes, this certainly seems pretty plausible. 

So I put on Live in Chicago at work today and yes, it was the perfect music for work, and yes, this makes it hurt even more that we’re living in a such a barren landscape for rock music in this day and age, which, as I suggest, has worked maneuvers toward discouraging that wacky duo from New Hope from putting out a new album, theoretically enough [1]. And yes, I did have a sort of Live in Chicago reawakening — I no longer consider it a bland run-through of their big hits and now recognize that it actually has my two favorite Ween songs on it, along with other niche gems like “I’ll Be Your Johnny on the Spot” with its off-kilter punk/drum machine groove and the plangent, picturesque psychedelia of “Chocolate Town,” a great album track from what was their last great album, Quebec. But Live in Chicago, aside from sort of forging out a new path of Ween listening in my mind, only reiterated to me how great the band were at songwriting. I mean, the songs sounded like the studio versions of the songs. That’s why they were good. At one point one of the timbres resembled Pink Floyd to an astounding degree and really, like Floyd, they’re not really a jam band — even that Phish-copped “Roses are Free” guitar solo is plotted down like a science, with one of the best string bends in a solo since Muddy Waters, as it were. In concerts, they get up and they play their songs, and don’t do much else, though sometimes with a bizarrely awful set list in tow, the type of thing that might have been better for my psyche than this rich reminder of what was once such a great presence in new alternative rock. 

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[1] Along these lines, it’s been widely reported that Talib Kweli actually had a whole new album of stuff written but has refused to put it out because of what he dubbed as “culture vultures” and their apparent proclivity for in their own way mitigating the efficacy of his art by their mass media or social media outlets and potential for denigration, or thereabouts. 

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