The Hippo


Dec 5, 2019








Courtesy photo.

The Tubes 

When: Thursday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
Tickets: $40-$55 at  

Tubular anniversary
Theatrical rockers celebrate four decades

By Michael Witthaus

 2015 marks 40 years since the The Tubes released their eponymous first album, with its instant classic, “White Punks on Dope.” A decade of hits followed, including “Prime Time,” “Talk to Ya Later” and the chart-topping “She’s a Beauty.” 

Apart from a late 1980s to early ’90s hiatus, the band’s toured throughout. Lately, though, lead singer Fee Waybill detects an uptick of interest.
“It’s like everybody remembers all of a sudden,” Waybill said recently from his SoCal home. “We played to 12,000 people in Ottawa and the place went nuts! We haven’t been to Canada in 20 years — I don’t even like Canada — but they convinced us to do a one-night stand. We toured Europe; every night was packed and they asked us to come back next March. ... All of a sudden it’s a big deal and we’re selling out wherever we go.”
Made up of theater majors, graphic designers and other artists, the band’s trailblazing live act set the standard for much of what followed. Alice Cooper, Genesis, Kiss and others had elaborate stage shows, but kinetic theatricality set the Tubes apart. Waybill pointed to the difference between The Tubes and Alice Cooper’s acts as indicative. 
“Alice pretty much doesn’t do anything,” Waybill said. “He stands in the middle and with his snake or spear and it all happens around or to him. We had all the dancers and everything; everybody was involved.”
Their secret weapon was a young Kenny Ortega, bound for future movie fame with Xanadu, Dirty Dancing, Newsies and the High School Musical trilogy. When he first met the band, Ortega was mainly a dancer, fresh off a national tour with the rock musical Hair. The Tubes had hired the all-female comedic group Leila & the Snakes as stage dancers and were trying to create their show. 
“We kind of floundered around with these girls, not knowing what to do,” Waybill said. “Kenny saw us and said, ‘Let me be the choreographer.”
The band rented out the 100-seat Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco’s Marina District to rehearse and record videos to play in six giant (for the era) monitors they took on tour. 
“It was like a constant workshop,” Waybill said. “We were constantly working, changing, fixing and improving; by the second album, we kind of got the hang of it.”
In an Entertainment Weekly interview earlier this summer to promote his new Disney film The Descendants, Ortega recalled working with the band. 
“They were a fantastic group of artists and musicians that pioneered early music video, and we were the first people to really bring theater into our concerts,” he said. “Our shows were subversive, scary, shocking, beautiful. Mick Jagger came, Elton came, Bowie came — the list of artists that came to see these shows was endless. It’s where my directing and choreography really took off.”
Success begot success, radio airplay mushroomed, gigs got bigger, rehearsals grew longer and staging became ever more elaborate — and expensive. 
“It was just insane,” Waybill said. “At one point we had a giant blue tubular city where we had these 10-foot-across blue tubes connected to towers that were like 30 feet tall, each with a quick change room so I never had to leave the stage [and] we didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the cost.”
The grueling pace of touring burned out some of the band members. Four of the original seven remain today: Waybill, guitarist Roger Steen, drummer Prairie Prince and bass player Rick Anderson. Bill Spooner and Michael Cotten stopped touring, and Vince Welnick died in 2006.
Though one of the band’s biggest production numbers featured Waybill as drug-addled English rock star Quay Lewd teetering in giant platform shoes, the Tubes singer never touched anything stronger than ginseng. 
“Prairie and I used to buy a box of black tar goo, and we would take it every night because we were just so beat to crap,” Waybill said. “Luckily, I never hurt my voice, and it’s way better now than it was back then.”  

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