Music: Review: The Tubes, Fleece

Jonathon Kardasz, October 12, 2016

To the casual music fan The Tubes and Alice Cooper have one thing in common – they’re renowned (if not notorious) for their theatrical live shows, costume changes and general on stage mayhem; but what the more serious fan knows is that both bands have based their live shows on an excellent canon of work. Whilst Alice picks the scabs off of the sick and twisted carcass of modern America, reporting on serial killers; mental deterioration; necrophilia and politics (not sure which is the less appetising of the latter two given the current state of Yankee politics). On the other hand the Tubes have always found and mocked the absurdities of their homeland… sex, drugs and rock n roll of course; television; love & consumerism; and, well, anything and everything that is both great and gross about the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Their last show featured a set packed with firm favourites and a full on costume extravaganza (seven changes if memory serves) and it would have been easy to simply repeat the show for yet another jam packed room. To their credit the band (Fee Waybill – vocals, Roger Steen – guitar, Prairie Prince – drums, Rick Anderson – bass and David Medd – keyboards) chose to give the set list a revamp and scale back the fancy dress a fraction and thus deliver a fan pleasing mix of stone cold classics and deeper back catalogue cuts. They also chose to pepper the set with a whole batch of covers that they very much made their own, an easy task given the skills on display. Technical hitches buggered up the start of the show with Steen’s space age cabinet on the fritz and requiring a reboot before the band launched in to Overture, an instrumental that managed to be both complex & sophisticated enough to moisten the capes of the Prog fans in the room, yet groovy & catchy enough to have the whole place moving from the opening notes. Enter stage left Waybill, dressed in an achingly hip zoot suit as the band made Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell their own. Without pausing for breath they grooved on into their own Monkey Time for the first audience singalong (tho’ not everyone caught the Kool and the Gang reference), with more wide eyed grins as that was followed by Tip of My Tongue. Continuing to pay homage to their heroes the band delivered a monstrous James Brown medley that to be frank grooved like Godzilla on poppers, a tight three song medley that more than proved the band’s funk credentials.


A reprise of Overture gave Waybill the chance for his next costume change and he was back on stage in a strait jacket and what can only be described as a steam punk toucan mask for Mr.Hate, a snarling tune that rocked the crowd. The next few tunes were delivered with panache and, judging from the grins on stage, a great deal of pleasure. Waybill was on his usual hilarious form, his diatribe about modern drugs managing to justifiably insult the idiot Rush Limbaugh; skewer the increasing manic offerings of drugs for an exponentially increasing multitude of bizarre “illnesses”; highlight that most ads are 14 seconds of drug information and 3 minutes of side effects, and finally to bemoan the fact that no modern drugs “…get you fuckin’ watch TV”. Unlike those manufactured by Rorer, who’s t-shirt he sported. All of which, ahem, subtly introduced a rambunctious Turn Me On, Waybill by now wearing a television mask full of drug bottles.


Golden Boy gave an opportunity for a Marlon Brando homage and also another opportunity for Steen to display his licks, a ferociously talented fella who played some scorching blues for this tune. Stella was just this side of histrionic but Mondo Bondage was sick and twisted in a good way; Waybill limiting himself to a gimp mask rather than the full S ‘n’ M outfit from last year, although he still did things with a torch that must have had Mary Whitehouse spinning in her grave. The beauty of the Tubes is their versatility, something that can only be built on a foundation of consummate ability and an attitude of “why the fuck not?” Prairie is a thunderously nimble drummer’ locked in with Anderson (who is looking more and more like Rick Parfitt every tour) and Medd’s keys flesh out the sound – parping horns for the JB medley, Prog washes and even honky tonk piano for the Berry cut.  So having nailed practically every genre in the realm of pop n rock, the band naturally decided to pay tribute to that archetypical American hero the cowboy by playing a straight yet knowing cover of The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance.


Of course the last cut was White Punks On Dope, and of course Waybill surrendered the mic to Quay Lude, who remains in rude health, leading a rollicking version of his infamous signature tune and orchestrating the crowd as they bellowed out the chorus ‘til they were hoarse. After helping Lude to totter off stage the band returned for a balls out finish to the set with “…the big hits”; albeit a big hits / cover sandwich, as their own She’s a Beauty and Talk to Ya Later bookended a snarling cover of I Saw Her Standing There that proved conclusively the Beatles invented punk rock. The Tubes have been doing this a long time and it shows in two ways – first of all they know how to construct and deliver a two hour plus set that manged to be stylistically eclectic and yet homogenous; and secondly they know how to enjoy delivering that set with humour, skill and a desire to entertain without pandering to audience expectations with a lazy greatest hits set. Everyone should see the Tubes at least once, but don’t be surprised if it becomes once a year.


Pix by Richard Bolwell

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