Madness and beauty mingled
The Tubes hit the rock-'n'-roll jackpot at Feather Falls Casino
Seeing the stage set with garishly retro sideshow art advertising “Tubes Bros. Shows” seemed perfectly fitting in the jangling, sparkling maze of the Feather Falls Casino and its new concert hall. When the band came out in full carnival drag (a fortune-teller, three clowns and a safari leader) and launched into a high-velocity rock-'n'-roll rendition of the quintessential circus theme, I knew we were in for a treat. And when 6’6” front man Fee Waybill came striding out in plaid many-zippered punk rock pants and ringmaster mustachios and face paint, I knew we were in for a full-on Tubes experience.
Despite the group’s well-deserved fame for a number of mainstream radio hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Tubes’ artistry has always been rooted in musical satire of the sort first popularized by Frank Zappa—biting social commentary grafted seamlessly to intricate, guitar-heavy rock nurtured with a healthy dose of dark humor.
How else to explain the truly demented scenario of “Rock and Roll Hospital,” during which Waybill, dressed in lab coat and pompadour wig, wheels out a life-size inflatable plastic doll that he proceeds to disembowel with a chainsaw so he can festoon himself with dripping plastic guts before breaking into a perfectly straight-faced version of the huge, power-ballad radio hit “I Don’t Want to Wait Anymore.” The fusion of these two numbers perfectly and self-consciously captured the schizoid personality of this band. And Roger Steen’s monumental guitar solos—spinning out to truly epic proportions and propelled by the phenomenal drumming of Prairie Prince, anchored by Rick Anderson’s bass, and embellished by keyboardists Dave Medd and Gary Cambra—comprise the glue that holds the contradictory dual nature of the band together.
The charismatic, multi-personaed Waybill, who goes through a series of transformations, from the self-destructing Texas cowboy of “I’m Proud to Be an American” to the 8-foot-tall silver-lamé glam rocker Quay Lewd of “White Punks on Dope” fame, provides the visual and lyrical focal point, but the world-class quality of the musicians is what makes the Tubes worthy of many repeated viewings and listenings.
For the mega-hit “What Do You Want from Life,” Waybill chose a toreador jacket and pink many-zippered pants, gleefully looming over the crowd of dancers that jammed wriggling into the area in front of the stage. He then disappeared while the band did a medley of crime show themes, including “Peter Gunn” and “Perry Mason,” and then reappeared as a TV-human hybrid for “TV is King” and “No Way Out,” which ended in a frenzy of head banging and wire-flinging before segueing into “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” (in a five-foot dress). Which in turn segued into a jam that allowed Steen and company to really flex the tissues of muscle-rock while holding the audience fully transfixed.
All of which gave Waybill time to make his penultimate transmutation, into the 8-foot, super-glam rocker Quay Lewd, whose embodiment of the lyrics of “White Punks on Dope” drove the already ecstatic crowd into an exultation of shout-along camaraderie. As near a group religious experience as I’ve witnessed in recent history, except perhaps at the Southern Culture on the Skids show last October.
Climax having been satisfactorily attained, the band exited to a standing, roaring ovation from the near capacity crowd and came back out, sans costumes, to do a calming “Slipped My Disco” encore capped with a super-extended, guitar-worshipping rendition of the major hit “Talk to You Later” that really raised the roof of the casino and sent us forth with sure knowledge that we’d just witnessed on of the best bands on the planet having a really good night.
And I won five bucks off one quarter dropped in a slot on the way out.