Reviews Zone

The Tubes: The Definitive Recordings 1975-1985 (Wrasse) 10th November 2017


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)




This is a real belter of a three disc set; delivering a total of 51 tracks by this fabulously over the top US band who for me, never quite get the full credit they deserve for their musical output.

Best remembered not only for their killer hit “White Punks On Dope”, but also for their outrageously theatrical stage antics in their live shows back in the day.

A little story about this band and me…Back around 1978, I was sent to photograph this band live on stage for a national music ‘paper, when I was a freelancer based in the UK’s Midlands and in my very first year of that job. The venue was The De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

I get to the stage door around soundcheck time and there’s a fire engine there and a fire brigade car too. What’s going on here then, I wonder. I pick up my pass and proceed up the stairs, along the corridor and into the auditorium.

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle on stage. The sound crew, roadies and the band are all stood there looking pissed off, while a fireman in uniform and a fire chief chap in white shirt and tie, are telling them they cannot do what they planned to do during the show later that night. If they do, the place will be shut down. There were two issues:

  1. They planned to ride a Harley motorcycle onto the stage, with singer Fee Waybill and a scantily clad young lady on the back.  2. They planned to use a real, working chain saw on stage and start it up. The officials had a shit fit!

The risk of fire from the petrol in the bike and the petrol in the chain saw was a major issue for the fire brigade guys, and the danger of someone getting hit by the bike or chopped up by the chain saw was somewhat of concern to the fire officers too.

The tour manager and crew were getting the right hump now, because the soundcheck schedule was down the toilet, and they were running really late by now. Eventually there was a compromise:

  1. They agreed that the bike would not be started up, but would be pushed onto the stage and the fuel drained from the tank first. 2. The chain saw would not be started up, and would only be used as a silent prop, the blade guard left on it and the fuel drained from it.

So with that agreed, the fire guys left the venue and the soundcheck cracked on. I was supposed to shoot some of the soundcheck and the gig at night, but in the stressed out circumstances, and time running out for them to do what they needed to do before showtime for the sound and lighting, I thought better of it and did not want to get banned from shooting the show at night. So I just sat and watched the soundcheck and kept my gear in my bag.

As all good media men did back then, I adjourned to the bar with various music industry VIPs and had a few cold ones before the gig proper. Grabbed some food in the backstage catering area and got my gear ready to shoot the gig. 35mm SLR film gear back then.

Shot the support, but cannot recall who it was all these years later. Probably had another beer, and then shot a good chunk of The Tubes set. From the front of the stage – no pits then – in the crowd, and from the balconies and at the side of the stage.

Had an AAA pass and could go anywhere, and shoot the full show. Today, we get to shoot the first three songs if we are lucky, and can be from the back of the venue or at the sound desk, way back fro the stage. More often than not it is less than three songs (Nina Simone was two minutes and Stevie Wonder was one minute when I shot pix of them – and I am told Lady Gaga is 30 seconds!!)) and the shooting position is often bloody awful.

Back then, you were welcomed and the artist/band, and their people were very accommodating as they realised your coverage helped their ticket and record sales, and boosted their profile. We are not ever seen like that today, sadly.

So, at this Tubes gig in Leicester in 1978, I pack it in towards the end of the set, before the encore, pack my gear up, take my bag to a backstage room and leave it in there, and go to the bar to have a final drink before setting off home or to a local hotel it might have been then. I am deep in conversation with some music biz VIP, and done for the day.

I did get pix of the motorbike coming on, with Fee and a lady friend on it, and they did push it on as per the fire brigade’s rules – but I think I am right in saying they naughtily started it up and rode off on it after they had used it in a song! I also think they did start the chain saw up, despite the warning. There was no fire brigade people attending the actual gig, so they obviously thought they could get away with it. Which they did.

But….here is where my red face comes in…………………………….I am in the bar, doors closed and by now it is part way through the encore, I think. Then the doors open and punters flood in. I think; eh, has it finished already?

I overhear the chatter at the bar and someone saying about an ambulance. I ask what they are talking about and it turns out that while I am in the bar, Fee Waybill has fallen off the high stage and hurt himself. The show has been stopped and he has gone off in an ambulance to the local hospital.

OMG. I missed it all. I went backstage to confirm that story, which was all true and then got a cab to take me to the hospital, with my gear. I get to the accident and emergency area but they stopped me going in to see Fee. I waited a few hours, but security were on this “nasty press man”, and there was no chance at all of me getting a photo.

He had broken his leg but was OK, and was apparently laughing about what happened. Me: I was VERY embarrassed that I missed the shots of what actually happened. It was my job and I messed up. I rarely drink now before I shoot pictures at a gig!

I actually got a message a few days layer from The Tubes PR office, asking if I did get any pictures of the actual incident, as Fee wanted copies. Sadly I said no, I did not. The band had to cancel a European tour because of Fee’s injury. I still have the black and white contact sheets of those photos, and may have the negatives somewhere.

Great gig. Only saw them that once. Loved their music. I vividly recall the scene on stage where they had TV sets on their heads, like huge boxes. Real surreal and visual shows they did. But aside from all the OTT theatrical stuff, they were all superb musicians and made a glorious sound. Kind of like Andy Warhol’s art set to music.

So, November 2017 and they have this bumper box set out, tracing their output for the decade between 1975 and 1985.  This set captures their finest recordings made for A&M and Capitol in that period, and includes the UK hits, “White Punks On Dope” and “Prime Time”.

We also get to hear again, the US hits “Don’t Touch Me There”, (pretty topical title at the moment, don’t you think?) “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore”, “Piece By Piece” and “She’s A Beauty”.

Great to hear such gems as “Pimp”, “Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman”, “Telecide”, the fabulous “Mondo Bondage” (I recall the leather gear and S&M theme on stage to that song), game show vibes of “What Do You Want From Life?” and beach movie parody of “Sushi Girl”.

Formed in 1972 in San Francisco, one of the first “Tubes” shows was at the Art Institute cafeteria, as part of an art show for future Hollywood director Katherine Bigelow. Yes keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman was partly responsible for them getting signed to A&M Records.

There has not been another band like The Tubes, in my view. They blended punk, new wave, rock and roll and theatre to create organised mayhem; a rebellious, actions-do-not-have- consequences affair…and you could never ever second guess what they were going to do next. I’d guess, the most often used comment to those guys back then, was: “Oh no, you cannot do that”. But “do that”, they would. First and foremost, they were consummate entertainers, and had fun with a capital F.

Fee Waybill, aka John Waybill a former roadie, used to dress as the character “Quay Lewd” and throw cocaine and pills to the crowd, who’d then throw them back on stage when they realised it was actually flour and candy! He may dice with death with motorbikes and live chain saws, but he’s not stupid’; did you think it’d be real drugs? Tut tut…

If you know who they are and liked their stuff back in the day, get this now. If you have never heard their music, get this now. lf, like me, you are fed up with Brexit bullshit and who Trump is starting a war with today, get this now. If you are sick of reality TV and X Factor shite, get this now. Tell your mates, your family and your pets. Just get it, and thank me later.

The Tubes are back. On record, and on tour in the UK right now with Alice Cooper. I wonder if the fire brigade and ambulance service are on standby?


  • The Tubes play Glasgow tonight (12th November), Brighton on 14th, Manchester Area on 15th, London’s SSE Arena on 16th and Norwich on 17th November, with Alice Cooper and The Mission. They have already played Southampton, Bristol, Reading, Newcastle and Leeds on this tour.



By Simon Redley




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