When Gene Ween announced his January 31 Schubas show in Chicago several weeks ago, tickets sold out within several hours.
Billed as an evening with Gene Ween, the night was one of two weekend performances in which the diminutive lead vocalist and co-founder of Ween graced Chicago with rare solo and acoustic sets, and they came roughly a month after he had a four-day stay in the hospital due to pneumonia.
A small group of lucky fanatics dropped $100 dollars a ticket for Gene’s private-party show, one night earlier, at Chicago’s The Tonic Room. I was lucky enough to have been there and felt like Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket the entire night. Guests were treated to an open bar, a commemorative poster, and a very intimate set with Gene, one that stood in strong contrast to the Schubas gig.
The Tonic Room reveled in drunkenness, fan-favorite selections, and Gene’s ramshackle treatment of the material. In contrast, Schubas’ was a polished affair, with Gene in excellent voice and running a very smooth and punctual night.
Whereas the Tonic Room gig was riddled with voice cracks, flubbed notes, and a cappella Prince covers, Schubas’ was lean, mean, and unfortunately, not nearly as much fun. Packed to the gills with drunken freaks, the venue saw Gene give his all. He was sweaty and all smiles by the end of both nights.
The set lists contained some overlaps. Both nights contained “Birthday Boy,” “Chocolate Town,” “Stay Forever,” and “Blarney Stone,” but Schubas got a rare non-electro version of “Friends.”
One of the standouts of both nights was “Buenos Tardes, Amigo.” The song, telling an epic Spaghetti Western ballad of family, violence, and betrayal, was pitch perfect, with Gene doing his best grizzled Mexican bandito impression.
With his Schubas set clocking in at just under an hour and a half, Gene seemed eager to get out of Chicago. Maybe it was just a matter of Schubas double booking the night, but the prompt start time of 7:30 and end time of 9:00 felt strange, and the set seemed to end before being brought to a fever pitch.
The drunken Irish rally chant of “The Blarney Stone” brought out the amateur singer in everyone, and beer glasses were raised and swayed in salute. As the last notes of “Birthday Boy” were played, Gene smiled humbly, and wearing a shirt soaked with sweat, he thanked the crowd with obvious affection and sincerity.
Regardless of my fan-boy nitpicking, that moment summed up what I love about the band and its loyal army of fans. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and with much of Ween’s material far too bizarre for mainstream consumption, it makes the fans and their relationships with each other — and the band — that much stronger.
– Drew Fortune
Gene Ween performing “Birthday Boy” at Schubas, January 31, 2009