Dean Ween brings solo tour to Aspen
If You Go …
What: The Dean Ween Group, with special guest The Meat Puppets
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Oct. 28, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $30/general admission; $50 reserved seats
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
For three decades Dean Ween has made a rock ’n’ roll legend of himself as one half of the offbeat alt-rock outfit Ween, amassing a devout cult following and pushing the envelope with an adventurous, eclectic take on rock.
Now the guitarist (lesser known by his given name of Mickey Melchiondo) has struck out on his own with his first solo effort in The Dean Ween Group. The band’s debut record, “The Deaner Album,” was released last week and it brings Dean to Belly Up Aspen tonight.
The group’s touring lineup is essentially Ween’s without singer Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) singing: Claude Coleman, Jr. on drums, Dave Dreiwitz on bass and Glenn McCelland on keys. Dean calls it “the best band in the world.” Some stops on the fall tour also include Mike Hampton from Parliament Funkadelic and some jams with The Meat Puppets, who are opening up for The Dean Ween Group in Aspen.
Dean launched the solo project after Ween split up in 2012. Freeman very publicly quit the band, but it wasn’t the acrimonious breakup over the direction of the band that some suggested it had been (they’ve since reunited).
“Anybody that tells you Ween split up for creative reasons doesn’t have any f-ing idea what they’re talking about,” Dean said in a telephone interview last month as the tour kicked off in New Jersey.
Ween has since reunited. But when his longtime creative partner took off for a break, Dean just kept going.
“I’m not going to quit being a musician — it’s what I do,” he explained. “I’ve spent my whole life practicing, trying to be better than every other guy in the world.”
In spirit, “The Deaner Album” has all the markings of a Ween record: unbound by genre, by turns funny and nostalgic and misanthropic. What stands out about it is Dean’s virtuosic guitar work, including several instrumental tracks (in the sets on the tour, he’s been singing on about every other song). Many are homages to Dean’s heroes and they showcase him playing in the style of Les Paul, Dickie Betts and Garry Shider.
“That’s what I listen to and that’s what I want to sound like one day: an amalgamation of all my favorite shit,” he said. “In any project I’ve done, it’s all there.”
The concept for the Dean Ween Group, he said, was to focus on his guitar-playing and to put those skills upfront in a way they hadn’t been with Ween.
“Some guitar players got better as they got older,” said Dean, who turned 46 in September. “I think Santana’s better. Neil Young is better. You should get better, you know? Where in the rulebook does it say you have to get worse? If I was 78, that would be one thing — if I couldn’t keep up. With all the studio time I’ve had and rehearsing and gigging, my guitar-playing is just in the best place it’s ever been, so it’s a perfect time to be doing this.”
He plays funk on “Mercedes Benz,” offers a careening guitar hero solo on “Nightcrawler” and hops into sludge metal on “Charlie Brown.” But the instant classic on the record may be “Exercise Man” — a hilarious punk-inflected takedown of today’s fitness culture with the Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood on slide guitar (a video for the song features a spandex-clad Dean biking and running with a cigarette between his lips).
“I don’t have anything personal against exercise,” he said of the song. “It’s not for me, though. I don’t walk.”
The song — like a handful he’s made in recent years — was born out of Dean singing for his young son in the car. He got into the habit of making up characteristically off-kilter ditties about roadside scenes when the boy was a toddler.
“One of the big ones was, ‘Oh, Mike! Look at that deer asleep on the side of the road,’ about a deer that had been hit by a tractor-trailer,” he recalled. “He’d crack up. Like, ‘Oh, he’s so adorable,’ and his head is ripped off and he’s all mangled with vultures and shit.”
Likewise, they’d cheer on the spandex-clad road bikers blocking traffic as a pseudo-superhero dubbed “Exercise Man.”
It’s the funniest of the funny songs on “The Deaner Album,” which also includes a xylophone-driven tribute to gum (“I like gum! All kinds of gum!”) and the sly rock star satire of “Bundle of Joy” (“I’m a rock ’n’ roll god and a bundle of joy”).
There’s less studio manipulation and drum machine on these tracks than most anything Dean did with Ween — they were all recorded live and made to be performed on the stage. Dean said he’s had to rethink the meaning of the rock album, as people have stopped buying them and the permanent statement of a recorded song has lost resonance.
“I used to think about songs for records and I wouldn’t think about it being on the stage,” he explained. “I’ve started thinking of music for the stage.”
The new record appears to be the beginning of a fruitful run of recording for Dean. He recently completed a new studio in Lambertville, N.J. on a 200-acre plot owned by a friend. “The Deaner Album” is the first record he finished there. He describes it like a 24-7 space for woodshedding — a musician’s dream space he calls his “forever studio.”
“We live in a very fertile area for musicians — just dozens and dozens that are available on a moment’s notice,” he said of his south Jersey home base (this is Springsteen country after all). “I can just call them when I have an idea and we can cut it. This is the first time I’ve had that.”
Dean has already finished a second solo album.
“I can’t wait for that one to come out,” he said. “You’ll hear those songs live. And that’s even heavier.”
An avid fisherman, Dean runs a fishing charter business on the Jersey Shore. But he scoffed when asked if he’d try his hand at fly-fishing the Gold Metal waters of the Roaring Fork Valley: “I take personal umbrage to fly fishing,” he said with a laugh. “I’d rather use a bait that’s bigger than those fish — live bait with a giant hook through its jaw, going for 70 to 80 pound fish with big nasty teeth.”
On stage, no two nights are ever the same for the Dean Ween Group. He and his band are playing a lot of the new material but they have about 200 songs rehearsed and ready to go (between the solo work, Ween tracks and covers). Dean isn’t reverent about many things, but set lists and the audience experience are almost sacred to him. Making every show unique, he said, is his duty.
He recalled going to see Van Halen as a teenager — one of the first big concerts he’d seen — and the band opened with a crowd sing-along to “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” that blew him a way.
“If they came back two years later and they did the same thing again, I’d be bummed, you know?” he explained. “If I though they just did that every night?”
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