July 29, 2014
Stay Strange: an evening with Aaron Freeman
by: J Ribadenera
I’m really fucking tired of hearing about Aaron Freeman’s sobriety. As someone who is also in his third “first year” of sobriety, I’ve begun to cringe every time I hear him wax philosophical about the battle towards clean living. I was deep in the bowels of Williamsburg’s Baby’s All Right when I heard someone blurt out, “Hey Aaron! Aaron! Hey man! I took some pictures with you back in Athens, GA, remember?” I turned around to see The Stallion himself, Mr. Freeman, walking with purpose straight through the sparse crowd, burdened by a heavy green Jansport slung over his left shoulder. From the way he was tearing through the club, head down with a serious stare fixed on the ground before him, the casual observer might assume that he was most likely the sound guy running 35 minutes late for work. He half cocked his head back in recognition that he was being greeted by a fan but never reduced his gait speed. In fact, he sped up. As he neared my corner of the club I said hello and thrust a tattered copy of my Cover My Ears zine directly in his path and wouldn’t you know it, the nut juked right like I’d pulled a knife on him. I watched as he made his move for the curtained off hallway that led to wherever the fuck it is that they intern the people who are unfortunate enough to play this rat’s nest and I decided that I wasn’t going to let the son of a bitch slither on like that. I had to show him that there was no need for the paranoid theatrics. All I wanted to do was hand him some reading material for chrissakes. I let out a “Goddamnit mang!” and lunged for his coattails. “Here!” I said, hoping to prove I wasn’t out for blood or a photo op. “Here! For you!” But this slippery shit was already pushing aside the curtain and it was obvious he wasn’t planning on turning back. Without thinking I cast aside the canvas and leaned in, heavily. There was a group of several people and a large dog about 4 yards down the hall and they immediately began sending me menacing glances. I called out to Aaron again and perhaps shocked that I had displayed such tenacity he stopped dead in his spree, turned around and quickly grabbed it out of my hands. He then turned on his heels and actually took up a jogging pace down the corridor and disappeared behind some corner. I heard him yell something along the lines of “James! Get my soups warm!” after he’d gone and I wondered why. Then a guy that looked like Terry Richardson came and pushed me back out into the bar.
By the time the band came on stage, the 85% male crowd was shouting out things like “Freeman!” “Aaron!” “Gener!” and “Aggghhhhhh!” Surprisingly enough, there were no “Where’s Deaner!?” questions like the last time I saw him play solo. He wore a beautiful ear to ear and was dressed like a Kansas City dad at a late August BBQ. The band went into some song off their brand new self-titled record that didn’t register with me, stopped briefly, then proceeded to go into another one that sounded like a slightly slower version of the previous song. I noticed that the guy to my right was craning his neck over the vocal monitor, squintingly trying to read the set-list. “There’s a couple Ween songs I think,” he said to his buddy, and he was right. “The Grobe” elicited the biggest response. The problem was, the momentum got stunted when they followed up a Ween classic with one of the mediocre soft-rock numbers that plague the new Freeman record. Save for “The English and Western Stallion,” and “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man,” most of the songs are sterile and forgettable. Gone is the soul of past songs penned by Freeman for Ween like “Baby Bitch,” “Birthday Boy,” and “What Deaner Was Talking About,” and in their place are songs that take themselves way too seriously and sound as if he was forced to write them. In fact, I got the feeling that Freeman didn’t even want to be there in the first place. From the strange unnecessary anti-social gallop through the front of the venue, to his breaking the ice by giving us “permission” to still call him Gener after the third song, it just felt like this was all a necessity for him. A man’s gotta pay his bills, right?
The show went on like this until the last song. People more or less checked out during the new songs and went bullshit when an oldie was re-hashed. I cringed when his new guitar player attempted a Dean Ween solo by throwing in his own interpretations and sadly observed Aaron lifelessly go through the motions. The only instance that he truly “got into it” was during the brutally honest “Covert Discretion,” which he mostly played alone. Accompanied only by his Les Paul, Freeman sang about being in the hotel room after the gig, jonesing for coke and drinking himself into oblivion before instructing all foes real or imagined to fuck off ‘cuz he’s never gonna die. While the band bashed away at the song’s ending I looked around the crowd and saw that half of them were raising their fists in celebration and mouthing “Fuck you all,” and half of them were dong the same thing as I, just looking around. It was at that moment that I noticed just how boring this whole thing was. Save for a few fun cover songs (Thin Lizzys “Jailbreak” and Prince’s “Never Take the Place of Your Man”) Freeman’s set was too often generic and forced. A better choice of cover songs would have been Frank Zappa’s “We’re Only In It For The Money” because to me that’s the only reason Freeman is doing this.
And thank god for that because as soon as he realizes that he’s not able to make enough of it from touring behind forgettable albums every two years he’ll be forced to have his people contact Deaner’s people and Ween will go back on the road for the reunion tour. Until then, I’ll go see Mac Demarco when he comes around. Gener’s gone, long live Gener.
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