Hailing from San Francisco by way of Arizona, the Tubes are a bar-raising rock outfit whose theatricality, outrageous stage productions, unforgettable personas and legendary live shows are the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend.
With their over-the-top performances that included soft-core exhibitionism, fantastic set and character design and scathing satires of consumerism, celebrity culture and politics, the Tubes developed a reputation for shocking audiences. This led to them being banned in numerous venues and towns, and also gained them a strong base of appreciative fans. But they had a way of surprising even their most die-hard fans, as they did with their ultra-conservative, suit and tie phase. The Tubes, it seems, were a moving target.
Boasting the same general lineup for the first 10 years of the band’s existence, the Tubes, fronted by unforgettable showman Fee Waybill, had several hits including “White Punks on Dope,” “Don’t Touch Me There,” and “She’s a Beauty.” The band also had a notoriously up and down relationship with labels, and eventually the band members started drifting off to do different things. They have however, re-formed a handful of times over the years and are currently back out on the road, with Waybill at the helm.
One of the under-appreciated bands of their day, the Tubes, with their performance art stage shows and emphasis on the visual elements of their music were, in many ways, ahead of their time. They would have made a great MTV band, but by the time music videos were catching on, the band was winding down its initial run.
The Tubes remain a somewhat under-the-radar remnant of ‘70s and ‘80s rock, but their loyal fans understand the brilliance of what they were doing and appreciate the fine style with which they did it. As founding member Bill “Sputnik” Spooner’s wife Anna once said, “The shows of the ‘70s and ‘80s are legendary, but it was much more than biting satirical humor and dancers with electrical tape over their nipples. The music was powerful and compelling, the performances earnest and passionate.”
The Tubes perform Saturday, June 11 at Montalvo’s Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre.