Not many bands get to celebrate their 40th anniversary. It’s a rare phenomena. For those that do, you have to wonder whether it’s an achievement simply still being together, or is it sad that they’re still doing the same thing they were doing four decades earlier.
Back in the 70’s, The Tubes were the bad-ass boys, shocking audiences with their notorious on-stage antics. But they gained more notoriety than they did sales. Indeed someone famously remarked about the only the thing The Tubes didn’t do was sell a lot of records. Indeed, their last studio album was released way back in 1996.
What people forget however is they were also one of the pioneers of theatrical performance. I say ‘they’ but of course the reality is The Tubes were always Fee Waybill and without him there’s no way they would have lasted so long. Now 64, he is still a charismatic front man, even if he looks even more ridiculous dressed as his Quay Lewd alter ego than he did all those years ago.
Waybill’s theatrics are somewhat more scaled back than they were in his halcyon days, the fact that the band and all their gear arrived in a splitter van rather than a tourbus and truck, says everything about how times have changed. At the height of their fame, they even sold out five nights at the Hammersmith Odeon! In 2015, for their first European tour in a decade, as well as Waybill, their line-up includes two original band members: the wonderfully named Prairie Prince on drums and guitarist Roger Steen. The former wore white-framed shades, the latter a white bouffant. All eyes however were on Mr Waybill, who befitting of his status in the band, made his entrance after the others had played the spirited instrumental ‘Get Overture’ from 1979s ‘Remote Control’ album.
The first time we see Fee he’s dressed as a private eye, in a fedora and a raincoat crooning the Frank Sinatra song ‘This Town’. It was the first of numerous costume changes, each of which was as much about a change of personality, as a change of appearance. And despite costumes and props that were distinctly more am-dram than Broadway, he manages to put on a show-stopping performance.
With no support act, this is a long set, over two hours and 19 songs. But at no time does it drag, as The Tubes revive all the highlights from their back catalogue. That there’s not a new song among them is a shame, but this is more a celebration of the past than any attempt to move things forward. For the most part, the songs are memorable enough, but more than the tunes, this is all about the performance.
Waybill leaves the stage and returns wearing a straitjacket. After freeing himself, he’s in a striped prison outfit singing through the bars of the panto-like prison cell which he wears on his head. During ‘Mr Hate’ he launches a lengthy tirade against Prius drivers and how he loathes the M25. Next up is ‘Amnesia’ another of The Tubes songs that you’d forgotten quite how good it was. Another costume change sees Waybill topless, bare-assed and wearing a leather mask. It’s not a pretty sight! The song is ‘Mondo Bondage’ and it’s the darkest part of the set — literally — as the only light comes from his torch. After that, he returns to sing ‘Sushi Girl’ wearing a fish mask and a kimono.
The band’s biggest hit and biggest ballad ‘Don’t Wanna Wait Anymore’ follows, still sounding good 34 years after its release. Indeed, it sounds like the second-cousin to Foreigner’s ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. Sonically, as befits a band that have played together for so long, the musicianship was second-to-none with shout outs going to Roger Steen for a particularly searing guitar work and Prairie Prince and Rick Anderson for providing the funky backbeats.
But of course, all were overshadowed by the introduction of Quay Lewd. Needing help just to stand up on his ridiculously high heels and wearing a blonde wig, Waybill looked like he’d come straight from the Legend’s stage at Pride. Here we had the ultimate drag queen and with ‘White Punks On Dope’ the ultimate Tubes anthem. Back in the day, it created huge controversy and made them one of the most infamous bands of their generation. I’m sure none of them could ever have imagined that they’d still be performing it in their sixties. How much longer they’ll be doing so, who knows?
Those who made it to the Concorde witnessed a memorable gig from one of the 70’s most iconic, yet under-rated bands, a group who’ve influenced so many others both musically and, perhaps even more so, in terms of putting on a show. The fact they’re still together is quite an achievement, and one that was most definitely worth celebrating.
By Gary Marlowe
Follow The Tubes at @TheTubesGroup
Photo by Images Out Of The Ordinary
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