Saturday, August 05, 2006

Up The Tubes!

Caught The Tubes last night at Portland’s Aladdin Theater, a 620-capacity theater with a balcony and pretty good sound system. OK, so I went as a total last minute decision – The Tubes were my first concert back in 1982 at the San Jose Convention Center in California. I thought at the least it would be cool to see if singer Fee Waybill could still hit the notes in “She's A Beauty.”

But man, did they over-deliver.

First off, this local band called Paper or Plastic opened the show. Aside from the drummer, they were pretty rancid, until I realized that they were all about 18 years old. I remembered the bands I was in at 18 and how I would have acted at a gig like that. Then I thought they were pretty damn good, considering. When they cut in line for the meet and greet after the show, however, my enthusiasm for them waned a bit more, but what the hell? I sometimes wish I was 18 again so I could do it all over – but do it RIGHT this time. I sound like Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynomite – “Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state.” So let them have their fun, right? Who cares?

So, back to The Tubes.

I have seen plenty of old fart nostalgia bands trash their legacies, so I was ready for anything. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout. Actually, kind of shocked. There must have been at least 550 people there – the balcony was open and the floor was packed once the openers got their crap off the stage. That really caught me off guard because the show got no promo, as far as I could tell.

I did not know there were so many Tubes fans in Portland. All different ages too – there were loads of guys that you know saw the band 100s of times in the 70s. There were dudes like me who cut their teeth on “Talk to Ya Later” and “She’s A Beauty,” and a lot of teens too. In fact, one kid in front of me requested “Haloes,” an obscure prog rock tune from the first album. And after consulting the band, Fee announced they were actually going to play it – and they SLAYED it.

Fee paraded out all the costumes like in the old days. He wore a TV on his head for “TV is King,” danced with a blow up doll, illuminated his leather bondage clad self in “Mondo Bondage” with a flashlight, and of course treated us all to an wobbling, wasted Quay Lewd in “White Punks on Dope.” He never missed a note, except for the super high, high part after the key change in “I Don’t Want to Wait Anymore," which guitarist Bill Spooner sang on the album version anyway (Bill has not been in the band since the 80s). I was astounded at how strong his voice was.

But, the band! Holy crap, the band was good. Original members Roger Steen (guitar) and Rick Anderson (bass) interacted only like guys who have known each other for 35 years can. Steen blew us all away with how good he was. I mean, he is a KILLER guitar player. That solo in “Talk To Ya Later,” originally played by Steve Luthaker on the record, is all Steen now and he met and surpassed that solo many times throughout the night. Original drummer Prarie Prince is on the road with Jefferson Airplane (I guess his girlfriend is the current Grace Slick-replacement singer), so they had a guy named Lou Molino on drums and man did he kick ass. I did not catch the keyboard player’s name (the only guy who did not come out to the meet and greet) but he was fantastic as well. He has all the sounds down pat, and added a ton to the vocals. Very pro. A keeper for sure.

I have to make special mention about the vocals. All five band members sang. Steen, Molino and keyboard guy did the majority of the back up harmonies and they were spot-on perfect. Very complex, three part harmonies behind Fee. At many concerts, if the backing vocals are that good, I wonder if the band is using a backing track, a la Ashlee Simpson (and most of the time, they are – in fact the bigger the venue, the more likely!). But these were live vocal harmonies, folks. A lot of hard work and a lot of talent there.

The guys were in incredibly good shape. I don’t know if I would have recognized Steen if I passed him on the street, b/c he’s taken no steps to hide his gray hair – but he looked great. Fee and Anderson looked pretty much like I remembered them in the 80s – even from the front of the stage where I was standing. It gave me hope, and also made me want to hit the gym!

In no particular order, they played: Mondo Bondge, Sushi Girl, Space Baby, Haloes, TV is King, Talk to Ya Later, I Don’t Want to Wait Anymore, White Punks on Dope, What Do You Want From Life, Tip Of My Tongue (awesome jam in this one), Out of the Business (this was the first song), She’s A Beauty, a couple of jams and a new song that I did not catch the name of but that SLAYED – another Steen solo ended this one. They did two or three others I am forgetting. The show lasted a very long time. I lost track, but at least two hours, with no bullshit set break.

They also did their punked up version of “I Saw Her Standing There,” which all of a sudden made me realize that these guys have been pushing the boundaries since the mid 70s.

It dawned on me that I was seeing living legends extend their legacy. The Tubes’ combination of rock, punk and theater in the 70s was so ground breaking. The Tubes were America’s answer to costume-wearing Peter Gabriel era Genesis – but with so much more of an edge. This was the West Coast’s answer to Alice Cooper and Kiss – but with so much more fun and kitsch.

Fee is the is the consummate showman, the eternal barker. By combining punk (before there was punk), prog rock, theater, raunch and humor, The Tubes did something that no other band ever did before or since. They are in a league all their own.

The obligatory break into the big time in the 80s disintegrated the original lineup, but not before they carved out a unique place in rock history. And last night at The Aladdin, they didn’t just give the audience a glimpse of former greatness, they kicked it up a notch and built on their legacy.

By the way, they were the nicest guys at the meet and greet. In fact, before the meet and greet, but right after the show, when the house lights came on and people were filing out, Fee was still at the edge of the stage, slapping hands and talking to people.

I mean, what a cool guy. No pretensions, no rock star bullshit. Just a guy who loves what he does, still connecting with his audience after knocking them out for two hours or more. Unreal. The world needs more bands with the work ethic and attitude of The Tubes. Musicians everywhere, take notes.


bushmeister said...

Whoa is that Fee Waybill on the mic? Looks like Eddie Vedder in 10 years...

Stinkstone said...

Hey, I grew up on the Tubes in the late '70s in the Bay Area and thought these guys were long gone. Not only psyched they are still around but jazzed that they are still sharp. Bring on Rhea Stiles and Don't Touch Me There!!

Anonymous said...

Bill Spooner sang "Don't Want to Wait Anymore" on the album, not Fee. That's why he has problems with the high notes. And Steve Lukather played all the guitar on "Talk To Ya Later" on the recording, Roger covers it live. As for the "Genius" shout, fans were probably refering to the "Genius of America" song and album, their "come back" from the mid 1990's.

Isorski said...

Hey anonymous, thanks for clearing up these errors. I went back and fixed the post - much appreciated!

sand-dee said...

cool, thanks for the info. i havent seen the band live yet, but have been a fan for over a decade.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words about a truly original act ... Long Live The TUBES!!!!!!