“Down The Tubes”
by Jason Reed
March 26, 2017
The Tubes are, in my opinion, one of the more interesting acts in rock history. They are a band that defies easy categorization, existing in an amorphous world between punk, theater, raunch, glam and pop (with some self-deprecating wit and cheese tossed in for good measure). Since their formation in 1972 (45 years ago!) their musical explorations have sometimes put them squarely in the Zappa-esque space of parody that defies the limitations of political correctness, endearing them to edgy, art-house audiences and securing their cult status.
Their early and loyal following was, no doubt, in large part due to their infamously over the top (and often quite expensive) live shows, the tremendous expense of which made them, at times, pariahs from record labels that viewed these forms of expression as financial liabilities. They are also a band that went through a phase of “streamlining” their sound, abandoning their satirical social commentary for more “straight forward” album-oriented rock (AOR) in the early 80’s (to significant commercial success). Through the years they’ve managed to orient their sails in such a way as to navigate these waters without capsizing. Like Ponce de León , their journeys appear to have brought them into vicinity of the fabled fountain of youth. Approaching 70 years of age, singer Fee Waybill doesn’t look more than a year over 50, with a continued and enthusiastic twinkle in his eye and a buoyant spring in his step. His fellow bandmates also appear to have drunk deeply from these regenerative waters themselves, to good effect.
The Tubes performed at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, CA to a full house on Saturday, March 26th. The energy of the band was staggering. Guitarist Roger Steen, bassist Rick Anderson and drummer Prairie Prince, along with David Medd on keys, were all on point and in sync. In fact, the rhythm section was one of the best I’ve seen in some time, with an unrelenting ferocity that surprised me and never wavered at all during the entire set.
Of course, I would be remiss in not commenting about Fee Waybill’s trademark comedic antics and wry social commentary. He railed against the pharmaceutical industry and consumerism in a potent fashion that other “social do-gooders” (I’m looking at you Jon Stewart and John Oliver) would be jealous of. F-bombs were dropped plentifully. Non-Sequitur statements about having sex with sheep were made. Uncertain reactions from some of the more timid elements in the audience ensued, making for some very interesting people watching. This was definitely not a PG show. Funnily enough, there was apparently a young child sitting in front of the stage. Pointing out this proverbial elephant in the room, Fee jokingly stated “There’s a kid in the front row…he’s never going to be the same!” No doubt about it, whether his parents fully consented or not, that kid got a crash course in profanity, drug references and other hedonistic forms of showmanship. And yet, boundary pushing is what the Tubes excel at and it would have been boring, frankly, to have not been able to see Fee’s skirting the edges of various social mores in front of the packed house.
The theatrics that fans have come to expect from the Tubes were on full display. Fee channeled a number of colorful characters in his stage repertoire, including Quay Lude, a raucous cowboy (with questionable sexual proclivities), the P.T. Barnum-esque carny barker of “She’s A Beauty” and the straightjacketed protagonist of “Mr. Hate.” I have the feeling that one could get easily lost in Fee Waybill’s wardrobe closet, potentially meeting a lion and a witch in there somewhere.
Highlight songs included a countrified “Liberty Vallance” and the bluesy “Golden Boy” off of their third album (a song they haven’t apparently performed in some time). Fee channeled the spirit of Marlon Brando in the song “Stella,” which took on a special meaning since my good friend and concert-goer Stella was there as well. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of her having an unexpected personal serenade from the lovelorn, crooning Waybill! The band’s performance of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” during the encore was also rocking and inspired.
The full setlist was as follows:
Additionally, the four encore tracks were:
- One In A Million
- I Saw Her Standing There (Beatles cover)
- Talk To Me Later
- TV Is King
If there was anything about the show that was not to my liking, it was due to the venue itself. The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, CA is a nice, casual venue. However, for certain shows they don’t “open up” the front general admission area but instead place tables for concert goers who are eating food. Think of it like a VIP section for middle-aged dignitaries who would rather sit and watch a band perform than to dance or get into the groove of the music. I fully understand that some attendees must sit during shows due to physical limitations, disabilities or other factors. Unfortunately, this choice of layout did a tremendous disservice to the Tubes, whose raw energy and talent commands fans to get sweaty and absorb the band’s energy from the front row. Having a sedentary “barrier” between the band and its undulating, devoted fans was unfortunate and undermined the potentially more fruitful reciprocity between performer and audience.
If you’ve never seen the Tubes perform live (or if it’s been a while since you’ve last partook in the spectacle), I recommend you do so at the next opportunity. With a quickness in your step. I guarantee you’ve never seen a band quite like them. They’re truly “one in a million.”