The Tubes: living up to their reputation

Fee Waybill is a storyteller, and not just through his lyrics, on-stage banter, or the multiple characters he inhabits during a show. Even in an interview situation, The Tubes singer is an enthusiastic and engaging conversationalist. With each question typically sparking a free-flowing five-minute reply, over the course of five questions he covers everything from volcanoes, drugs, and headlining Roskilde, to touring the UK with Alice Cooper and writing songs with Richard Marx.

We were trying to stand out from everybody else when we first started and maybe we didn’t have the unbelievable hit material that catapults you right to the top of the charts. On our first five records, ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ was the only song that maybe reached Top 40. I was a theatre major in college, I’m an actor and I did all these plays, so I’ve always had that theatrical bent. Prairie and Mike both are artists, and so we had all this talent. So we decided: ‘You be a crazy cowboy who shoots himself in the head accidentally and we’ll make it an art show.’ So that’s the way it started and it just built up bigger and bigger and bigger. And then we had hits on Capitol and the show got huge, massive, 30 trucks and 30 buses, and just ridiculous. And of course with the added income was the temptation of drugs, so the whole thing built up and built up like a volcano and just exploded and the whole thing caved in on itself.

We were doing well, but there was just too much money and too much drugs. I couldn’t handle it and by about 1988 I left. And I thought: ‘I’m going to move to LA and I’m going to work and I’m going to start a band.’ After I moved to LA, Richard Marx and I started working on his first record, which did 2 or 3 million copies. That’s huge, more than The Tubes ever sold, and so here I am, living in Westwood, Richard is selling records like a mad dog, and I’m just sitting around waiting for the mailman to show up with my publishing cheques. Cheques started coming in for big money and that kind of put off me wanting to put a solo band together. And so I was doing fine, I was going to the gym, I was taking acting classes, I was writing, it was great. But then in about ‘94 The Tubes management calls me up. ‘We got this big offer, let’s go to Europe, 50 shows’ and I went: ‘Really? What’s the situation there’, and they said: ‘Well, pretty much everyone’s grown up and quit taking drugs. They’re dealing with their families and they want to do this.’ So i said ‘Oh, OK, I’ll try it’ and here we are, we’re still doing it 100 years later.

I love playing these different characters, and being outrageous and running around and singing. My voice has held up really well and so I’m having fun. When we first got back together to do that European tour, we all sat down and went: ‘Let’s just go play, no big show, no costumes, no nothing, just stand there and play. Let’s not spend every dime we make on production like we have done for the last 20 years. Let’s just play and keep the money.’ I wasn’t sure how i felt about it but we went and did the 50 shows, and it was weird. We played well, it was a lot of fun. People hadn’t seen us for 10 years, but they had this look in their eyes, like they were thinking: ‘What the fuck? Who are these guys? Where’s the big shoes? Where’s Quay Lewd? What the hell’s going on? These are not The Tubes. These are a bunch of guys just standing there in Levis playing Tubes songs.’ So we came back home and we probably played maybe two or three years doing sporadic gigs without very much production at all, and we kept getting the same response. People kept looking at us like: ‘What the fuck?’

When you’ve built up a reputation, you’ve got to live up to it. And once again we got an offer from Europe to do a big show: it was to headline Roskilde in Copenhagen. Without saying it, they implied: ‘You really need to be doing a big production here to be headlining our huge festival and we want to see the whole 9 yards here.’ So we hired Lesley Paton – a tall redheaded girl, gorgeous, great singer – and we put ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ back in the set, and we got the motorcycle out, and we got the big shoes, and we did a whole production for Roskilde and closed the festival on Sunday. So that was that: ‘Well fuck, we can’t go back. Now we’re doing a big show again’. So ever since then I’ve been doing what I always do: the characters, changing costumes, go crazy on the stage.

Opening for Alice you get 50 minutes, so we’ve got to get in the highlights. There’s a limited amount of visual production you can do as an opening act in a big arena. Unless you’ve got a giant video screen projecting you, you can’t do a lot of subtle stuff on a 10 000-seat stage and so it’s kind of more of the hits, blast right through, not a lot of talking or storytelling or bullshitting around like I do in clubs. I take off in clubs sometimes and go off on some tangent, talking about something, and the band just flips out. You can get away with that in a club – nobody cares in a two-hour show, they love it. I’ll tell them a story about when I was a cowboy, or how I broke my leg, or whatever – it’s like stand-up comedy for me. So in the clubs, we’ll do our full show with a bunch of costume changes and some instrumental stuff. You’re not going to do an eight-minute overture on a stage where you’ve got 50 minutes, but I am going to do three or four quick 30-second costume changes while someone in the band is doing an instrumental solo.

We’ve played with Alice many times in the past. Everyone’s always saying: ‘they’re both so theatrical, what a great combination’. The funny thing is we’re the only two major theatrical bands who’ve ever been and we’re both from Phoenix, Arizona. Back in the old days we used to go see them play in town, so it’s all very chummy and Alice is such a good guy, really accommodating. So it should be really fun. I haven’t played an arena stage in England since the ‘80s and I’m really looking forward to it.

The Tubes November 2017 UK Tour

Saturday 4th November 2017
Southampton, Engine Rooms
Tickets: £27.50 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: www.seetickets.com
Venue: 0800 688 9311

Sunday 5th November 2017
Bristol, The Fleece
Tickets: £27.50 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: www.seetickets.com
Venue: 0117 945 0996

Monday 6th November 2017
Reading, Sub 89
Tickets: £27.50 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: www.seetickets.com
Venue: 01189 595 395

Thursday 9th November 2017
Newcastle, Boiler Shop
Tickets: £28 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: https://agmp.ticketabc.com
www.wegottickets.com/BoilerShop 

Friday 10th November 2017
Edinburgh, The Liquid Room
Tickets: £28 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: https://agmp.ticketabc.com
Venue: 0131 225 2564

Saturday 11th November 2017
Leeds, First Direct Arena
(*supporting Alice Cooper) 
www.firstdirectarena.com

Sunday 12th November 2017
Glasgow, The SSE Hydro
(*supporting Alice Cooper)
www.thessehydro.com/

Tuesday 14th November 2017
Birmingham, Barclaycard Arena
(*supporting Alice Cooper)
www.barclaycardarena.co.uk

Wednesday 15th November 2017
Manchester, Arena

(*supporting Alice Cooper)
www.manchester-arena.com

Thursday 16th November 2017
London, SSE Wembley Arena

(*supporting Alice Cooper)
www.ssearena.co.uk

Friday 17th November 2017 
Norwich, The Waterfront
Tickets: £27.50 (Inc. Booking Fee)
Book Online: https://thewaterfront.ticketabc.com
Box Office: 01603 508 050

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