“A baby’s arm holding an apple” shouts back the crowd to Fee Waybill’s quiz master question What Do You Want From Life? at The Tubes’ 40th anniversary tour concert in the Clapham Grand Theatre. He is impressed that everyone knows the words so well. This gig is tremendous and The Tubes’ singer is a magnificent showman who maintains a high level of infectious audience interaction throughout.
In private detective (Sam Spade) guise the shows opens with the Lee Hazelwood song This Town, but of course Fee is not singing about London, as he adds a few parody lyrics of his own, telling us he is talking about Manchester! The down in the gutter feel continues with Gene Pitney’s classic A Town Without Pity.
Back when they first started, everything The Tubes did on stage was over exaggerated, over large, overblown and over the top, so it is with much glee that we await the arrival of a twelve foot high hamster wheel for Fee to run around in as he sings Rat Race. Roadies and the band look confused and inevitably it does not appear. The band continue to ridicule the pomposity of their early stage antics in this two hour and 20 minutes long concert.
The escaped lunatic prisoner appears in straight jacket to induce more stage mayhem with Mr Hate and complaining about everything from an itchy convict uniform to having a go at members of the audience for driving a car called a Prius in the wonderful songs No Way Out and Life Is Pain. The moral of the story is, if Fee Waybill asks a question do not answer it directly…unless you want to be chastised for the rest of the night.
The searing guitar, played by Roger Steen and the recognisable sound of countless The Tubes’ hits, soars around the theatre for the introduction of the dark Mondo Bondage. So black that Fee Waybill uses a flashlight to highlight his performance all glistening in sweat and fetish leather. You would not want to meet Mondo on a lonely street in Clapham at night.
Fee recounts later on how the band, formed in Phoenix Arizona, would laze around on hot days, too warm to do anything else, dreaming of what they would do in the future Waybill destined to be The Creature From The Black Lagoon until he and the rest of the group uprooted to San Fransisco and discovered Sushi..enter fish mask and Sushi Girl.
Don’t Want To Wait Anymore is a tribute to Vince Welnick, one of The Tubes co-founders, songwriters and ace keyboard player who sadly died in 2006 and clearly is an emotional loss in the eyes of Fee Waybill who delivers Vince’s song with heartfelt clarity.
The quiz master is called for to delve into a few tracks from the first album including What Do You Want From Life but the climax of the show is when the glam punk rock star Quay Lewd is paraded on stage for the cult anthem White Punks On Dope. Not only is the set-up brilliant but the faux collapse at the end is hilarious because he cannot get back up on his eighteen inch high platform shoes. In the past the character would have had several on stage dancers to help but here the rest of the band admire the effort to rise from the floor from a distance and are certainly not going to offer any assistance. You are never quite sure what you might get with Quay Lewd, sometimes throwing up is part of the act…the front row were very lucky tonight.
A night of absorbing and fun theatre with some rock n roll, punk, prog and pomp thrown in, the atmosphere is also a little to do with how the theatre itself is laid out. I don’t think it’s quite true that Charlie Chaplin designed it (as Fee indicates) but he certainly trod the boards there in his early days and the theatrics continued with the sideshow (funfair) barker throwing dollar bills to the concert goers at the front, in acting out of She’s A Beauty (Why Would I Lie?) .
At the end a choked up Fee Waybill shows his appreciation to the audience by appearing to be overcome by the warmth of applause and after finishing with a four song encore he grasps the hands of those at the front in thanks and promises to tell them the meaning of the opening quote at the merchandising stall. A wonderful night.
Photographs and Review by Simon Jay Price. Simon also has his own website here: www.simonjayprice.com
The full set here: http://rockshot.photoshelter.com/gallery/The-Tubes/G0000XqLw4B4tT10