Roses Are Free
Original Artist: Ween
Original Album: Chocolate and Cheese (1994)
Albums: Hampton Comes Alive
Last Update: 2015-10-01
In contrast to the persona displayed in Ween’s song “Leave Deaner Alone,” Mickey Melchiondo (a.k.a. Dean Ween) is a really hilarious, down to Earth, friendly and accessible dude, as far as rock guitar gods go. So when it came time to overhaul the “Roses Are Free” song history, we went straight to the source and asked for his take on the Chocolate and Cheese songwriting and recording process that produced this classic cut.
“Aaron wrote this song and recorded it in his apartment in Stockton, NJ during the very fertile writing period preceding Chocolate and Cheese. There was no bass on it. I immediately fell in love with the song and thought it was the closest thing we'd ever recorded to truly emulate Prince, who is our musical hero. The demo was on four tracks with two vocals, drum machine and keyboard. I heard it as being symphonic. I think it's ironic that as many times as we've worn our Prince inspiration on our sleeves that no one ever picked up the obvious, massive Prince influence of the song. When we re-recorded it for Chocolate and Cheese we filled up 24 tracks with parts. We never played it live, it had never even occurred to us until Phish started playing it out. Now it's one of my favorite songs to perform live, as the whole band is playing the entire time. Usually it's our finale of finales, the last song of the last encore. Phish, by covering it, made it one of our popular and most crowd pleasing tunes. For that we owe Trey forever because it opened up so many people's ears to the music of Ween and introduced us to a whole new audience within the jam band scene, which never would have happened otherwise.”
To hear “What Deaner was Talkin’ About” regarding the Prince emulation, all you have to do is spend some time with Parade, the 1986 soundtrack to the film Under a Cherry Moon. The kinship of “Roses Are Free” to these tracks, which are largely constructed on a framework of synthesizer and drum machine, is unmistakable. Toss in Gener’s Princely provocative vocals, Deaner’s slyly seductive Stratocaster solo proudly displaying his Hendrix > Hazel > Prince lineage, and layer it with a symphonic array of pleasurable textures, and your plump pumpkin of a package is stuffed and tied with a bow ready for presentation beneath the tinsel adorned tree. A special gift for the person in your life that is second to none.
Ween, "Roses Are Free" – Live from Bonnaroo 2002
Despite the widely held notion – Mickey included – that Phish gave Ween the idea to present “Roses Are Free” to a live audience, Ween had actually performed the song three times before Phish unwrapped it in Rochester. It debuted at the Westbeth Theater in NYC on 7/16/97 as part of the Intel Festival. The florist delivered again a little over a week later on 7/24/97, where the delicate flower was one of a bunch of songs in a ridiculous double encore show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas. After a 33-show gap, the third and final pre-Phish performance of “Roses Are Free” by Ween was Slip Stitch and Passed to a Markthalle crowd in Hamburg, Germany on 12/2/97. Nine days later, Phish played it for the first time, and Ween would abandon it in disgust for almost two years, waiting until a hometown bar gig at New Hope’s John and Peter’s on 7/21/99 to push it into third and climb that hill. A few weeks later at Ween’s 8/4/99 Seattle show, Gene Ween introduced “Roses” by noting Phish’s cover of the tune, and revealing that they had started playing it again in order to “reclaim it.”
Since the reclamation, Ween has performed “Roses” an additional 303 times. To get a good taste of their holiday pie, check out the Bonnaroo 6/23/02, Live in Chicago (DVD recorded 11/8/03 and 11/9/03), and Bend 7/2/11 versions. The most recent appearance at a Ween gig was during the first night 12/29/11 of their NYE run at the Fillmore in Denver. The ongoing estrangement between the brothers Ween, which commenced shortly thereafter, resulted in a 113 show gap where neither Aaron (as either Freeman, Gene Ween, The Gene Ween Band, or Billy Joel) nor Mickey played the song. Thankfully with the formation of the Dean Ween Group, another baker’s dozen of “Roses” were delivered during their spring and summer 2015 tours. Check out the 8/29/15 Charlotte version to see exactly where that is at. Pretty awesome sound to be sure, but there is just no replacing Aaron’s unique vocal style.
“Roses” made its Phish debut on 12/11/97 – emerging from a kick-ass “Drowned” jam – which is featured in Bittersweet Motel, including snippets of the song's pre-show backstage run-through. Phish wasted no time employing “Roses” as a vital improvisational vehicle, of which two versions stand out in a top tier of their own: the 27-minute version from 4/3/98 on the Island Tour featured a phenomenal jam of multiple, subtle layers that remains to this day a quintessential statement of Phish improvisation; and the "good..... MORning!" 35-minute pre-dawn monster from Big Cypress on 12/31/99 that displayed a brilliance born of exhaustion and exhilaration. Other notable version from Phish’s 1.0 era include 12/31/97 (in the middle of rocking “Mike’s Groove”) and 7/13/99 (leading into the first "NO2" in five years).
"Roses" would make only four appearances on the Phish stage over the subsequent decade (see especially 10/1/00 and 6/25/04), half of which saw Phish on the shelf as a whole. “Roses” would return to regular rotation in 2010, including appearances among the pristine mountains of Telluride on 8/10/10, evolving out of “Piper” in the Polo Field of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on 8/12/11, and in near synchronicity with Ween’s final performance on 12/29/11 during their NYE run at MSG. While still appreciated and a fan-favorite cover tune – and despite the excellent 6/8/12 Worcester rendition where the band offers a glimpse of the song’s former improvisational glory – the bulk of the thirteen 2012 and 2013 versions indicate Phish was content with a more meager slice of lasagna as compared to the thick and cheesy versions from the '90s.
Perhaps owing to this wilted condition, “Roses” appeared only once in 2014, during the Chilling, Thrilling Halloween run in Las Vegas on 11/1/14. The two performances during summer 2015 although equally unremarkable musically were typically well received by the crowds at both Blossom 8/7/15 and Dick’s 9/4/15. At the conclusion of the Blossom performance, Trey took it upon himself to address the Elephant in the room, dedicating the performance to Aaron and Mickey, acknowledging them as one of his all time favorite bands, and exhorting them to anneal “The Rift” and get the band back together. When queried in a recent interview about Trey’s plea, Aaron offered “I thought it was awesome. It was a little romantic, but that’s OK, he’s a musician.” When he was asked for comment back in August, Mickey simply replied “Please”... which, despite the obvious eye roll that accompanied it, is how we all feel about this tender situation in one sense or another.
Phish, "Roses Are Free" – 6/8/12, Worcester, MA