Formed in San Francisco during the early 70s, The Tubes distinguished themselves as much more than a rock band. The group incorporated theater and dance into provocative and satirical early songs like “ White Punks on Dope.” By the 80’s, the sprawling seven-piece multimedia troupe found MTV-era success with top-ten single “ She’s a Beauty .”
With a large company of musicians, crew, dancers and actors in the early days, the Tubes weren’t often accused of being in it for the money. “We never made any,” says lead singer/songwriter Fee Waybill with a laugh. “We spent every dime on production. Every year, we’d dream up this fiasco that took 40 people on the road for eight months in a bus. We’d make three million dollars, and it would cost us four.”
The Tubes’ latest release is “ Live at German Television ,” capturing a 1981 studio performance. Songs include “ Talk to Ya Later ” from breakthrough album “The Completion Backward Principle.”
“It’s really a good piece from our heyday, during a big Euro-tour with the girls and the works,” says Waybill. “We do well in Europe, and we were in Germany last year. A guy who owns a record label there found this TV station, Radio Bremen, that had the film in their vault. Our promoter said, ‘Did you even know this existed?’ I said, ‘Hell, no, I don’t remember that. 1981?’ We saw it, and we all went, ‘We’re so young! We’re so handsome!’”
The Tubes now travel as a lean five-piece troupe, with four founding members. Theatricality remains important, and Waybill adopts various personas including wasted glam-rocker Quay Lewd. “I’m still doing eight or ten costume changes per show,” says Waybill. “This show is called the Mondo Pulp Tour. It’s a dual tribute to the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ and the pulp art movement.
When they made those wildly-colored magazines in the early ’50s, it was called pulp because the paper was so cheap. It was garish and sexual with lots of cleavage, superheroes, villains, guns and monsters. I’m doing costumes and characters that fit that.”
Waybill becomes a Gene Rayburn-styled game show host while satirizing consumer culture during “ What Do You Want From Life? ”
“Sometimes the product sarcasm gets lost on the millennials,” he says. “We grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. It was 150 [degrees] outside, so what are you gonna do? We sat inside watching TV all day long – westerns and game shows like ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ ‘Concentration’ or ‘Match Game.’ We’re definitely TV babies.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.