The band (there used to be a lot more of them):
The introductory music was samba, then Fee Waybill came out and busted up “This is a Man’s World”─in English and Italian. He knocked it out of the park. Who knew he was so funky? Well, Waybill is Sicilian, Sicily is practically Africa, Sicilians are practically Africans, and that’s where all the great music started.
He followed that with “It’s A Drag.” Ya gotta love a line like, “The world is my ashtray,” but I think Fee and Denis Leary are the only two guys left who smoke. (Okay, not including Europe.)
I really thought The Tubes were going to be all about the music now; Waybill’s still got the floppy hair, but it’s graying, he was dressed normally, and the band was even less outstandingly dressed. His voice is multidimensional, and the band is capable of so many different styles of music.
Then he donned his green, red, and yellow test-pattern Italian game show host jacket for “What Do You Want From Live?” Now it’s obvious his attitude hasn’t changed a bit.
Gradually, the show descended into madness. Waybill’s first costume change: a toga cinched with a sparkly cod piece, gladiator sandals, gold mask, and red Centurion Mohawk. I’m thinking, Now where is this going? Then a pirouette reveals his bare butt peeking out below the hem. That got a big laugh.
Another great line: “I was a punk before you were a punk.” True dat, and he’s still a punk, but this is what seasoned rockers look like without their clothes? It’s a good job the music was CBGB-worthy. Now here’s some cognitive dissonance for you: Fee singing “I Saw Her Standing There” in that outfit, mooning the audience at the end.
Okay, here comes the seriously disturbing part. Another costume change brings Waybill out in black leather chaps, glittery black codpiece, a skull tank top, and devil makeup; a hellish monster. Since the band’s original shtick was lampooning the media, the one element that made sense was the red TV his head was stuck into while he sang “TV Suicide.” Waybill lurched around like a tripped-out Minotaur, head-butting the band. Gee, and he started out the show so dapper, like a Continental gigolo. God knows what his dressing room looks like.
It’s hard to describe the sinking sensation (or maybe I just did) I had as his performance deteriorated into nightmare. If this stuff is the contents of his head─ yikes! First, lights out. Then he uses a flashlight the way we’ve all done as kids: holding it under his chin to light his face from underneath in that spooky Halloween way, making it scarier than the glittering half-mask already did.
Now the worst. He holds the flashlight upside down in the air above his head and gradually lowers it into his mouth; well, guess what that looks like. Then he holds it at crotch level, waggles it around wildly, aims it at each band member, turns his back on the audience, sticks it through his legs, wiggles it back at us. Now remember, it’s pitch dark, the only point of illumination is that little flashlight, so we’re seeing what looks like a shining asshole─ which at this point I’m beginning to think he is. I’m also thinking, how embarrassed are most of the men in this place? And the band? I’m pretty embarrassed myself. Because really, what was the artistic value here? The statement? And finally, was Waybill sexually abused as a boy? Who acts out like this unless he’s got something to act out? Kinda might be a good idea to get help before it gets worse. This was way more extreme than any S&M or orgy spoof The Tubes did 30-odd years ago. On the other hand, Karen Finlay won grants and awards for starting out slathering her naked butt with squished yams. Apparently Westerm culture is obsessed with this territory.
Eventually the self-indulgent crap was over and I stopped feeling queasy. While Fee was off donning god knows what, we got the palate cleanser: “Brighter Day,” a relatively innocuous rhythmic number sung by the lead guitarist.
Thank god he returned in clothing: gangster threads, fedora, and sunglasses, looking like a ‘60s Italian movie pimp. Now this character hated women. The basic thread of the song was, “Ain’t you got no control/can’t you control your bitches?” The audience got into a singalong, or shoutalong, whatever. They were hooked, no doubt about it. Then Fee went into an elongated rap about getting bitches to clean up the cat litter; by now, the misogyny was getting to me, even if it was tongue in cheek. Under a silver mirrored disco ball, he segued cleverly into “I Slipped My Disco,” and you heard what a solid rock’n’roll band he has. I even heard a drum solo that kept the beat! (and used “more cowbell”)(if you don’t get that reference, I can’t help you).
Meanwhile Fee was backstage metamorphosing again, and returned looking like a human being, this time a disheveled schoolboy: tie askew, striped shirt with white collar and cuffs. I’d like to see him do a set without costumes. This band is so funky you have to wear a porkpie hat to be in it.
Here’s where Waybill plugs the digitally-remastered-with-bonus-tracks Completion Backward Principle. Then the disco ball started rotating. We also heard how he fires keyboard player Dave at every show. Dave, on cue: “I quit.”
Next up, a ballad: “I Don’t Wanna Wait Anymore.” Then the moment everyone was waiting for: “How about we bring out the guy with the big shoes?” Enter Quay Lude, 10 feet tall, topless, in black feather boa, skin-tight silver lamé pants, and the most impossible platform boots this side of Greek kothurnae, as we hear The Tubes blast into “Lust for Life.” Except for Mr. Lude, who’s too high and busy futzing around. “Any time you’re ready, Quay Lude!” a bandmate shouts at him after the missed cue. “Fix my fuckin’ mic stand!” is the diva’s reply.
As he sang “Boy Crazy,” Quay was busy fluffing his gigantic Mott the Hoople wig, ignoring the spare tire around his waist. Ya gotta hand it to Waybill; he’s shameless. (I want that wig; it’s so Dolly Parton.) Every time he fluffed, I got hysterical. Then it was “White Punks on Dope” team spirit time. Lude ostensibly chugged a can of beer, then tottered into a bow before collapsing. Flashback to my only time on downhill skis: fell over, never got back up on my feet. (Actually, I did the same thing my only time on cross-country skis.) He crawled slowly in a superhuman effort to achieve verticality. By the time he got there, he was one totally wasted rocker.
Then The Tubes made me happy by spoofing second-rate bands’ excruciating endless endings, while Quay, in a crucifixion pose, waited and waited for them to get to the part where he could make a final dramatic gesture. After a few false starts he just gave up, did it half-assed, and was done. As he was led wobbling offstage, his exit line was, “I’m going to go and be sick.” Ahh, the good ol’ ‘70s.
For the encore, Fee in striped blazer, plaid pants, and straw boater sang “She’s A Beauty.” I thought he was being 1/4 of a 1920s barbershop quartet, until he turned sideways, flashing a load of punk hardware on the pants. Then off came the jacket, revealing a purple tee shirt, and he launched into “Talk to You Later.” Rumbling guitar lead, swirling keyboard solo, the guitar building, racing to what you think is the finish, then the sound evolves into a Hendrixian jam. No wonder: we’re listening to a twisted “Third Stone from the Sun.” Yay! I just wish Steen wasn’t crouched with his back to us during the screamingest part. If you gotta put the guitar near the amp to get feedback while you use the whammy bar, then sit the Marshall at chest height, cheated out toward the audience. Elementary, my dear Watson!
One more side of Fee Waybill: he volunteered to hang at the bar and have a drink afterward with all and sundry, and flatly refused to go upstairs and stand by the merchandise counter to hawk the Completion Backward Principle re-make. I thought about snagging an interview (I had the recorder and camera in my bag), but realized I couldn’t look the guy in the eye after that flashlight extravaganza. No, better to leave Fee Waybill on the stage where he belongs.