San Francisco rock legends, The Tubes, took Ottawa on an exciting glimpse through their 40-year journey which began with their debut self-titled album, released in June of 1975. Currently on a 40th anniversary world tour, the band showed the captivated audience that their energetic and musical prowess is still very much intact, as they started CityFolk Festival off with a bang.
The music of The Tubes bears a Zappa-like similarity in its highly sophisticated abstract quality, yet strikes you in a whiplash of rock/pop operatic fever. They were clearly ahead of their time, covering topics ranging from sexual deviance, to socio-political views, and several forms of insanity. Their stage shows were notorious for their audacious satire and unbridled theatrics involving dancers, actors, and acrobats, complete with wildly imaginative choreographed routines, flamboyant costumes, and elaborate set designs. By the mid-seventies, they had achieved cult status, which carried through into the heady days of eighties MTV and beyond.
Today, the grand-scaled circus elements may have disappeared, but the five remaining band members still manage to put on a stellar show that focuses on their truly exceptional musicianship, as well as the enduring power-packed vocals and continued costume changes of front man, Fee Waybill. After a resounding intro that featured the badass basslines of original bassist, Rick Anderson, Waybill took to the stage dressed in a red and white candy stripe jacket and skimmer hat, where he proceeded to knock one of their biggest hits, “She’s A Beauty” out of the park.
“Thank you for having us here at CityFolk Festival…you’re all under arrest!”…and with that, he left for a quick costume change, while the band played a melodramatic piece entitled, “Getoverture”. Waybill made his wild re-entry dressed in a straight jacket and sang, “Mr. Hate”, a song about a violent and psychotic prisoner…sung in the first person, of course. As Waybill frantically writhed his way out of the restraints, the song’s pure power kept on to its grandiose ending, and drew a wealth of cheering early in the show.
“Amnesia”, showcased Waybill’s ever incredible voice, as well as some great vocal harmony action by keyboardist, David Medd, and original guitarist, Roger Steen. More 3-part vocal action came with “Life Is Pain”, along with a rockin’ guitar intro that led into an absolute wall of sound as the others joined in. “I Don’t Want To Wait Anymore”, one of the band’s favourites (and oddly enough, mine), continues to serve as the ultimate contrast, with its haunting ballad melody, and wonderful lush chord changes.
By this time, the large group of fiftysomethings that had gathered close to the front of the stage, had fully completed their metamorphosis into their teenage years. Drummer Prairie Prince wowed the crowd with his dynamic syncopations in a solo that wound through a series of rock and latin beats. Another costume change, and Waybill made his grand entrance as “Quay Lewd”, dressed in spandex, foot-high platforms, and a glorious mop of curly blonde hair. He ensued with, “Boy Crazy”, followed immediately by their first hit, “White Punks On Dope”. The repeated chorus travelled back and forth in a call-and-answer match with the audience, whose voices may have shown signs of hoarseness the next morning…then again I should just speak for myself.
After ditching the frocks and spandex for jeans and bare-chested freedom, Waybill led the band in a rocked-up, frenzied version of the Beatles’, “I Saw Her Standing There”, followed by chart-topper, “Talk To Ya Later”, in all its 80’s dance/rock glory…and a three-part harmony pre-chorus that still gives me the shivers. At the end of the show, the band joined hands at the front of the stage to deliver their final bows. Waybill lingered a little to lap up the love, and thanked the crowd with his arms raised in the air. His face beamed with pure joy that clearly reflected his love of the stage, and of the past 40 years spent in the crazy antics of a band I’m sure he wouldn’t change a day of