It’s last Saturday at approximately 7:54pm. I am standing on the floor of the Palace Theater in St. Paul, MN. I am leaning against a sort of drink rail structure next to the ramp that goes down to the stage. My friend C.S. points out what appears to be a middle-aged man with gray hair and a ballcap hurling his guts out on the concrete wall 5 feet away from us. Judging by the fact that the woman next to us is holding her shirt over her nose for the next 10 minutes, I’m guessing the guy had more than just a 3 martini lunch. I am at a Ween show drinking Coca-Cola. C.S. is slowly slurping Surly beer. This is what middle-aged white guys do at concerts in Minnesota. They slowly slurp the Surly beer.
All rules of engagement for rock concerts are suspended at Ween shows. There are “that guys” everywhere wearing the tee-shirt of the band they are seeing. Nearly all of these shirts look like they were purchased at a Mushroom Festival in Hell sometime around 2004. Standing directly to my right is a man who is wearing what looks like a hard plastic archer’s quiver. It is harnessed to the back of his person like a hiker’s knapsack. This sacred scroll holder is most likely protecting an ultra limited edition poster he bought at the merch table. Probably the one with the cartoon rabbits. You know… one of those tour posters that you want to frame, but your wife threatens to Bobbitt you if you hang it anywhere but the garage? Yeah, that’s this guy. I would have to be 8 Surlys deep and possibly on mushrooms to wear that thing in public.
In order to pass the time until the band hits the stage (this is one of those “Evening with” shows where there is nothing to do but stand around, get bombed and people-watch until showtime), we make purposefully bad dad jokes under our breath about Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings at this man’s expense. C.S. names the poor bastard “Legolas, Prince of Prints”…and we yell it to each other in haughty Renaissance festival voices whenever we see the man for the rest of the night. Ween takes the stage at exactly 8:07pm and proceeds to melt people’s faces for 2 hours.
At 8:08pm sharp, a massive surge of bearded males and B.O. surrounds our prime spot near the railing. C.S. makes it exactly 3.5 songs before wanting out. C.S. is notorious for his Larry David-level fear of brushing up against strangers, and for having mind-crushing claustrophobia. I must admit as much as I love this particular view of the band, I too am a bit annoyed with current circumstances. My butt is not only nearly tipping over a garbage can, but I think it’s actually partially pushed in it now. I’m too old for this shit Riggs. Plus the two cokes I have pummelled have me needing to pee, so I relent and head up the flight of stairs to the bar area to collect myself and find the latrine.
A quick aside here…it is mind blowing how fucking dumb intoxicated concert-going males are. They wait until the last possible second to enter the venue, then all pile on top of each other like they are in a clown car. This train wreck inevitably happens at the first entrance to the venue’s floor that they see. Nevermind that there is another, perfectly good entrance fifty feet to their right. They also do this with the bar. 40 people line up on the corner of the bar closest to the theater entrance and set up shop for days as bartenders on the far side wave frantically for them to come down to the other side of the bar. But I shouldn’t rip the Ween dudes. They are the most cordial, easy-going fans you will meet. These are gentle Viking giants. Noble and honorable men.
The other side of the venue (where the beardo pile-up isn’t happening) is filled with couples and drunk chicks who came with their friends. It turns out the females are the aggressors in this little tribe. This is interesting and hilarious to me because it’s something I never would have noticed had I been shitfaced at this concert like I normally get. I saw not one issue with dudes being assholes or fighting in the pit…but the women are running up and down the venue ramp handing out forearm shivers to everything in their path. I’m not paying attention for a second and one nearly knocks me completely over. She is 5 foot 2. The guy behind her laughs and I give him a goofy, knowing smirk.
I’m also getting a ton of butt bumps (not the good kind) and elbows to the midsection from these determined little Ween warrior goddesses. They are all stupendously drunk, holding hands with their girlfriends, and some are even wearing fairy wings. I suppose if I had to navigate a forest of 6 foot 4 bearded Viking giants as a small female, I imagine I’d probably be hosing people down with Mace by now. Who am I to judge? I can’t see over these fuckers either and I’m nearly 6 feet tall. I see my opening and start following some of these miniature ass kickers down the ramp. I sidle and inch my way back up towards the stage. I am sans C.S., who is standing behind the bar next to an oversized AC vent airing out his sweat ass. Papa Gener is destroying the solo to “I Don’t Want it” and I have a brief, crystal clear sightline between two oafs that look like 1970s-era Bill Walton.
It is 1995. I am in St. Paul at a place called Roy Wilkins Auditorium. This is the first time I ever see anyone try to crowd surf. These jolly fools are attempting to crowd surf to the Goo Goo Dolls. Nope, not making that up. One of these doofuses is my friend Pat, his blonde hair looks like a curly Cobain wig. The 17-year-olds get him almost 3/4 of the way up only to in ceremoniously dump him sideways. He lands on his feet and smiles that toothy Pat smile.
Hold on…did I forget to mention my first ever concert in the Twin Cities was Gavin Rossdale’s Bush? I am not one of those cool kids who came in from the suburbs every weekend and saw all the best 90s bands before they were famous at 7th Street Entry. Oh hell no. I get to tell people my motherfucking first concert was BUSH, the Monkees of grunge. To make matters worse, the Goo Goo Dolls were there. If not for Nickelback and Creed coming along a few years later to save their asses, they would most certainly be known as the worst band of the 20th century. To compound my misery with this virgin concert-going experience is the fact that the only notable thing about this shit sandwich is the fact that this is the infamous tour in which Gavin and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani met and fell madly in love (until years later when he fucked their nanny and she fucked Blake Shelton on the set of The Voice). That’s kind of cool nugget to tell people right? Wrong. No Doubt was a no-show for some reason, so I can’t even say that I got to see Gwen at the peak of her Gwenness, or even make up some excuse like “my girlfriend made me go.”
I am standing at the far side of the bar at the Palace. The drunks have figured out they can actually use all bartender stations at this humongous theater bar now. I am waiting in line for my 3rd Coca-Cola. I see a small refrigerator filled with Red Bull. “Maybe I should drink that instead?”, I think to myself. But then I will get real twitchy, my heart will start racing, I will crash and have to drink more Red Bull in roughly 17 minutes. Then I think…Jesus Christ I don’t want to go back on that fucking floor. C.S. was already trying to drunkenly barter our way to the upper deck with a rando we met the last time we went outside for a heater. What if I just had a couple Red Bull/Vodkas right now? Nobody would see or know. I need it to calm my nerves and tolerate all manner of bullshit in the sweaty mess below.
I imagine myself as Popeye ripping the top off one of the ice cold Red Bull cans, pounding half of it, then biting the cap off a Grey Goose bottle. I spit the cap off the barkeep’s face, then take all it’s goosey awfulness in my mouth, swishing it around and spitting it back into the Red Bull can. I then theatrically sniff the nose like a sommelier before shoving the whole mess down my gullet. The supernatural burst of energy and drunk strength blows gentle, yet forceful winds up my tooter… thus allowing me to storm all the way to the front of the Palace stage. I wave “hi” and give devil horns to Deaner as his solo during “Fluffy” goes off like a grenade in my face.
Yeah I could do that…that would be fun. However, I am now behind two men getting Bill Bratzke-sized Windsor cokes and it smells like Unpainted Huffhines and rubbing alcohol. Seriously that shit is the worst type of spirit known to man. My brother and I used to call it “Hairspray” and dare each other to take shots of it while watching Vikings games in our 20s. After gagging silently, I take my unleaded Cola and head back to the floor. This time I meander farther up the side wall towards the stage on a solo mission to get at least 10 good minutes of Ween trance.
It’s hot as fuck in the pit at the Monkees of Grunge show. Now I’m not saying this is Pantera in here by any means, but these skinny teenage peers of mine are attempting a pitiful Yacht club Slamdance up in this shit and I can’t breathe. When people start to pogo up and down during “Machinehead”, I do too…not because I am supercharged by the hard-driving rock…but because I can get a sweet gulp of unsweaty B.O.-free air. I am 19 and I hate being around people. I have violently oppressive social anxiety, and this is the most miserable situation I could possibly be in. Little did I know, that this issue would go undiagnosed for over 15 years and the only way I would know how to treat it on my own is to get blind drunk and bull my way through it.
I slither forward weaving through the joyful teenage American idiots until I find another cool pocket of air. I can’t push any farther because I am hitting something made of metal. Shit, I burrowed my way up to the rail! I slowly look up and standing directly above me is one Gavin Rossdale, Esq. I have never been this close to a “celebrity” in my life. Of course, he’s not really that famous yet, just a mop-haired British dude with 3-4 milquetoast grunge songs in heavy rotation on 93.7 “The Edge”. I grew up in Winona, MN, there were no local bands or even a place to see concerts…unless you count the bandshell by Lake Winona where the Municipal Brass Band played.
Naturally, the first thing I want to know is if Gavin is fucked up. I inspect him closely, his eyes seem intense, but also slightly glazed over. I suspect he has had a few drinks. I look behind him and there are 4-5 Heineken bottles on the drum riser. I wish I could afford exotic beer like Heineken. Instead I will spend another 4 years drinking vile swill like “Milwaukee’s Best Ice”.
Gavin is singing a song called Glycerine. I know this one. I have recently attempted to pick up a guitar, and it’s four chords have been an easy way to try and woo girls with my friend Dallas (who is the only person I know with a “single” dorm room). I can only play 3.5 songs on guitar at this time in my life. Knocking on Heaven’s Door, About a Girl, the riff from Come as you Are, and this Glycerine business that has recently been tearing up “The Edge’s” airwaves.
Holy shit was I not cool in the 90s. Hilariously, I never even went to First Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis until I was like 28. Mostly due to poverty…but still, that’s pathetic. When I was in Winona I had no idea how to even go to concerts. I remember seeing a blurb in the Winona Daily News about Nirvana coming to the St. Paul Civic center on their 1993 In Utero tour. I wanted to go, BADLY. Yet I had not the foggiest inclination on how to make this happen. Later, I was to find out people waited in line at Dayton’s in a mall and had an operator place their order with something called Ticketmaster. When I moved to the cities I might as well have been a teenage Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, dunder-headedly roaming this new earth looking for beer, tunes, and shelter.
Gavin says he is going to cover a Prince song. What in the blue hairy fuck? Is Gavin going to sing “When Doves Cry”? Maybe a grungified “Purple Rain?” …no, he plays a song I’ve never heard of. I kind of like it though. Something about a cross. The Cross? Later this would become my favorite Prince song, which is funny because the first time I heard my favorite Prince song it was being sung by Gavin Rossdale the Nanny fucker. “The Cross” is one of the only “religious” songs I can tolerate. The other is “I Believe in You” by Bob Dylan off one of his much-derided “born again” albums. These songs are earnest, yet somewhat dark. Lyrically heavy, yet simple in structure musically. Hell, “The Cross” is only 2 chords…this is probably why the Heineken-fueled Gavin is able to pander to the locals so effortlessly and off the cuff.
I’ve always felt like rock n’ roll concerts are one of the only true “communal” experiences humanity has left. You sing. You absolve yourselves of your daily sorrows. You go home. Since hardly anyone under the age of 75 goes to church anymore, concerts are one of the last vestiges of this ancient custom we have. And I am definitely not one of those douchebags that believes concerts are only good in tiny clubs either. The bigger the venue, the harder this type of communal transcendence is to pull off for the artist. I fucking love that bands need to tour and get in front of large groups to make money now. This is the best medicine for a world of disconnected humans.
I have weaseled my way down the concrete wall of the Palace theater. I am at the last tiny staircase which leads down to the smaller floor section right in front of the stage. I am right at the top of the stairs with only a shorter man in a beanie in front of me. I have a perfect view of the stage. Ween lifers surround me. One yells “Captain Fantasy!”…the guy in the beanie bellows “Laura!”
What is with the old school Ween fans always clinging to “The Pod” album? It’s like a little Ween cult within the Ween cult. A tiny niche inside a smaller, thimble-sized niche in rock history. I’d honestly rather listen to anything off Quebec, but at this moment I’d strangle a small goat to hear “Dr. Rock”. I think about ironically yelling it (Dr. Rock is probably the least weird song on The Pod), but then I’d risk getting 1,000 “fuck you poser” eyes from everyone in front of me.
It’s hot down here, I feel the anxiety building inside me. I feel like I am watching the show in a fur-lined snowmobile suit and just stepped into a sauna. A beardo next to me yells “DEMON SWEAT!” at the top of his lungs, and as if on cue, Deaner invites Gener to go to a small keyboard on the opposite side of the stage. A reverent hush falls over the raucous inner circle of Ween fanatics. This is the equivalent of the Pope giving a blessing at the Vatican in some quarters of this establishment. I’ve never really thought that much of the song, but other than Gener’s “I Don’t Want It” solo, this is THE transcendent moment of the show. A few minutes earlier the guy in the beanie (most likely under the influence of a few different recreational drugs) had asked me to plug my ears as he was plugging his ears. I plug one ear…humoring him. “No man! Do BOTH ears!” I do as I’m told, this guy could be tripping balls for all I know and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to tempt fate and screw with his journey. I plug both ears, high on Coca-Cola. “You feel that man!?? IT’S SWEET!” I do feel something. I feel the ground vibrating from the sound below my feet… I put my hand on the wall and it is vibrating as well. I look up and we are under a giant speaker. He turns around again and we are all lost in the music, everyone within 100 feet of me. I hear a harmonica. The song somehow sounds 3-dimensional. What the fuck? I don’t remember there being a DEMON SWEAT harmonica solo? I look down and the guy in the beanie is leaning waaaay back with his eyes closed. He is playing a goddamn harmonica along with the music.
DEMON SWEAT ends as quickly as it begins and the beanied stoner invites me to his spot – “Here.” he seems to say, “Enjoy the best seat in the house, you need it more than I do.”
C.S. and I have been fucked up together more times than I can possibly count. He took me to my first high school keg party when I was 17. He kicked me out of his “like-new” 1989 Mustang at Kwik Trip after I puked all over the seat. He had to use one of those gas station squeegees to clean it out. I only had to walk 4 blocks to get home, so no biggie.
C.S. and I used to get into all sorts of shit. His parents live all the way out in a small valley beyond the ridge on a beef farm. We’d get fucked up and hang out in the parking lot by the Hardee’s in town, then have to drive like 30 miles down treacherous winding dirt roads to get to his parents’ house. One time we hit a deer going full speed. We hit is so hard that it shit on the windshield. We stopped for the briefest of moments and deliberated what our story would be to his parents when they saw the bashed in Mustang. Then we sped off cackling as we tried to run the windshield wipers on the shit. The next day we went looking for the deer and were astonished at how far into a cornfield it flew. It lay there still and silent, it’s hind leg wrapped around its head.
C.S. doesn’t try to get me drunk at all. He knows when I set my mind to something it cannot be changed. We don’t speak much about it, just enjoy the show. I hate talking about not drinking. It’s annoying to me. I am not going to prance around saying “my sobriety this” or “my sobriety” that….people that do that sound like they are taking their fancy French poodle for a walk or some shit. Now I just say I’ve “stopped having the beers” or that I’m 38 days “Grondahl” (after a former co-worker and ace drinker who went to AA, got clean and moved to Seattle).
Sometimes I just feel like stopping. I’ve done it a few times before. Once was quite humorous….C.S. and I went to the “Americanarama” festival featuring Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Bob Dylan. This is the only time I have actually seen Dylan. But I didn’t actually SEE him, because I was on the side of the stage watching C.S. puke by a row of Port-O-Sans (to be fair…it was extremely hot that day, and C.S. was much larger than he is now…not to mention violently wasted and stoned). I could only hear Dylan because he was somewhere near the back of the stage behind his piano. The side of the portable stage was blocking my view. He sounded like shit. We left early.
The second time I “stopped having the beers” was right after my 40th birthday. I quit for nearly 6 months. Then D. Lu and one of my best friends from college got married on back to back days one fine May weekend. A couple of beers turned into a nearly 3-year craft beer guzzling odyssey. Here’s a word to the wise, if you have an anxiety disorder and you are taking anti-depressants for it, it’s probably not the greatest idea to go to a brewery and slam copious amounts of a DEPRESSANT every other weekend. Kind of defeats the purpose.
After having a smoke with C.S. I make my final descent into Weentown from the back of the Palace Theater bar. The encore is starting and I am determined to try and get back to where I was before. I don’t get that far before Ween starts blasting a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”… the snowmobile suit is on me again but I don’t care. I fumble for my phone to try and record some of this momentous occasion. As I hold my phone up wildly and devil horns from the other revelers bat it back and forth, I see a text pop up on my phone from C.S., “Holy Fuck” is all it says. I am glad I am back in the sauna. After blowing the doors off the place as a three-piece with Dave the bass player singing lead, Gener pops back on stage. “How you gonna fucking follow Ace of Spades?” Deaner chuckles. Gene knows how… by closing down the night with an epic version of “Poop Ship Destroyer.”
All 2500 of us in our snowmobile suits are gently swaying in unison (or wobbling like gentlemen in some cases). POOP. SHIP. DESTROYER. POOP. SHIP. DESTROYER. It feels like the room is 48.5% more stoned, but also happier than they ever could be outside these walls. Tuesday is election day, and a shit veil of horridness has descended upon the national news cycle. I’d rather sing about Poop. I’d rather start my own church in an old basketball arena like Joel Osteen. We’ll do nothing but sing “The Cross” and “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” for hours on end. Krist Novelselic will be contractually obligated to play accordion at every mass.
I am sitting in a church basement. My daughter and her friends are playing “Simon Sez” and learning about the Ten Commandments. C.S. left early this morning, long before I woke up…even the kids weren’t up yet. We are sitting around a long table with other parents. There is another table next to us which houses the coffee, big black urns the size of flower vases. We are now going around the room and saying “hi my name is”…Christ, this might as well be an AA meeting. I think about my response. I should say: “Hi, my name is Andy, my wife made me get married here in 2003 and I sometimes attend sporadically on holidays. I don’t really believe in organized religion, but I do feel spiritual at times when singing about Demons and Poop.”
I don’t say any of those things. My wife fields the question and talks about how she was baptized here when she was little. My kids were baptized here too, and come here to make crafts on Sunday mornings sometimes just like their mother did before them. They will never have to know about their father’s odd upbringing in a hardcore Polish Catholic enclave in southern Minnesota. They will probably never have to explain what a Catholic mass feels like as a 10-year-old altar boy (picture Tom Cruise meeting Red Cloak in the film Eyes Wide Shut). They will never experience a “polka mass” or get sprayed with holy water. They will never be shown anti-abortion movies on a ratty projector once a year. And they will never, ever pass out from holding their breath while kneeling next to a coffin getting peppered by an insense orb. Not unless their grandparents force them to altar boy weekday morning funerals once a week that is!
I watch my daughter slowly slather paste all over a candle and glue some paper mache shit all over it. I hork down my slimy brown church coffee. I see my daughter’s fingernails are still painted jet black from Halloween. A slow, evil grin spreads across my sober, yet tired old man face. She’ll be just fine.
As I wait for C.S. outside the Palace Theater, a busker is playing the Pee Wee Herman song “Tequila” on a sax and there is a dwarf making laps around the gathering crowd. I am standing next to a stone tablet emblazoned with the Hamm’s Beer Bear on it, our planned rendezvous point. The marker/statue is about 7 feet tall and looks like a large cartoon tombstone. “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters”, it says. It might as well be a gravesite marker for my beer drinking career….or a gravesite marker for when I inevitably fall off the wagon again. Works either way! The perfectly awful, multifunctional life metaphor!
I hear a goddamned Harmonica. Am I going insane tonight? I peer slyly around the Beer tombstone, it’s the beanie guy going to town on his harp right behind me.
Maybe he’ll follow me wherever I go now, my stoned guardian angel.