Monday, 9 June 2014

May 1979

White dopes on punk

Back in New York and I find myself asking the age-old question: what do you want from life?

To watch a meretricious show pumped full of more costume changes than Liberace had in his entire career.

To enjoy a showroom dummy spectacle as transient as it’s torrid?

To whistle one song on the way home and wake up the next morning totally devoid of musical memory, just the routines, and the high heels, and the big tits, and the chainsaw, and the bondage?

Or. . .

Do ya wanna see some kick-ass rock ’n’ roll with the occasional embellishment to accentuate rather than drown?

Me, I’d rather suck my choc ice while watching the TV Tubes!

Yes, by special request, brought to you at great expense (but not nearly so much as last time -- or the time before that), we have the meticulous, the desultory, the alarming, Tubes.

The San Franciscan sluggers with the neat line in swashbuckle have now become neophytes in the land of three-minute rock. The Tubes ain’t so gross any more. Sure, it was fun while it lasted but they eventually discovered there are more important things to attend to – like making music without the blinding flash of techno-theatre, and like making money. So they’ve stripped the rococo trimmings from their show.

Now, how do I know this? After all, they don’t play their first show of a sell-out British tour until this Friday.

Come with me now to the backstage area of the Palladium in New York City where Fee Waybill pulls me to one side. ‘Hey, do you know a writer called Tim Lott?’

‘Not personally,’ I lie. ‘Why?’

‘Well,’ he says, pounding his right fist onto his left palm, ‘if I ever meet him again I won’t be responsible for my actions.’

‘Why?’ Fee’s a big guy. He looks a little menacing.

‘Because when he did a review of one of our concerts he kept talking about the size of my nose. That’s fucking wrong, man. It’s not fucking relevant. So, you don’t know him?’

‘No.’ My nose nearly grows a foot. Shit, I hope he doesn’t find out in the next two days. Could be a little awkward. Gee, these guys are touchy.

Fee is brimful of nervous energy while watching Squeeze, who are supporting The Tubes, win over yet another bunch of fastidious Yanks. ‘Great band, huh? I love ’em.’ The feeling, I later discover, is mutual. ‘Hope you like our show,’ he says, continuing to boogie to ‘Take Me I’m Yours’.

In the Tubes’ dressing room the rest of the band limber up. Drummer Prairie Prince does a tricky little two-step twinkle around the floor, which percussionist Mingo Lewis paces conservatively. Tension around the huge plastic bins packed full of ice and cans of beer.

Out front, that unmistakable US rock-show smell pervades the air – grass. As pungent as fish and chips, as thick as cold porridge. The audience is curious. They’ve obviously heard of the Tubes’ metamorphosis. Would they still cut it in that old cynical, spectacular style? Or would they now simply be another bunch of rock ’n’ roll rookies looking for somewhere to hang their burnt-out blues?

‘Would you please welcome from San Francisco . . . THE TOOBS!’

The show spells the end of Fee’s alter-ego, Quay Lude, who is finally banished to that great exposed clit in the sky. Oh, it’s still over the top, but the big bucks are missing. The technoflash may have gone, but the rock has really set in complete with a Who encore − ‘Baba O’Reilly’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’.

The show’s an unqualified, unequivocal, underarm success.

Cecil B. DeMille has been replaced by John Cassavetes, but it’s a change that had to happen.

And that’s the point Fee makes in the Tubes’ tour bus the next day on the road to Providence, Rhode Island, the submarine capital of the world. ‘When we started this US tour we were really apprehensive of blowing it in front of the fans who only came to see the Tubes for their theatre as opposed to their music,’ he says -- he always looks so innocent with those big eyes and curly hair. ‘Granted, we amassed an impressive following because of that – but that wasn’t necessarily a following of record-buying fans. Christ, they’d see our show, then go home and build up their movie systems, not buy our albums.

‘We’d been doing the show for four years and we were flat broke. Oh, sure, we’d make thousands of dollars on the road – but that was all spent on the show and providing for thirty people in hotels every fucking night. I got fed up with going home after a tour and having to borrow money from friends. I was killing myself. It was time to change. We had to become the new Tubes. We’d created a monster that just kept getting fatter. We had to kill it.

‘But it’s a lot more than just economics. We’re trying to make a career out of this business. Listen, five years down the line I don’t want to end up playing in a Bonzo Dog Band. They went on for years – lots of people know their routines, but how many remember their songs?’

Not the urban spaceman, baby, that’s for sure.

‘We decided we had to make people listen to the music, not just get off on the million dancing girls, the elaborate sets and the costumes. We wanted to become a kick-ass rock ’n’ roll band. The music had been suffering. Weak songs were being reinforced with extreme visuals. It got to be such a headache, thinking of different scenes to match the songs. I was spending more time on changing my costumes than actually singing.’

The initial dates on the tour were, as Fee put it, ‘murder’.

‘I was dressed in little kid’s clothes, which was supposed to signify how I was brought up on TV and never left the set. But unfortunately nobody understood it. So there we were, changing the format of the show after two concerts.’

That night in Providence, the Tubes play an ice-hockey stadium this time without the Who encore because the Rhode Island doss-heads thought ‘White Punks’ was the final song and left.

Silly puckers.

(Fee left the Tubes in 1985 but rejoined eight years later to tour Europe and release a few, largely unsuccessful, albums. Vince Welnick committed suicide in 2006 and the following year the remaining members of the Tubes reunited in Phoenix for their induction into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. The band are currently on a US tour).

Within five minutes of my getting back home to London the phone rings. It’s Tim. ‘Can you do a phoner for me? I’m double-booked with Iggy Pop.’

Who is it?

‘Your favourite, Billie Jo Spears.’

Throw that blanket on the ground, I think I’m gonna be sick …

By the way, Fee Waybill sends his love. Click.

Next: Ronnie Wood in Chicago

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives



No comments:

Post a Comment


About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
I'm your Flexifriend blogger for all your Flexipop! needs.....