Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Tubes at the Haight Street Fair

The Tubes. Haight Street Fair.
Recommended for Tubes fans! Warning: Flashbacks! 
Several years ago the crowds at the Haight Street Fair got so big and unruly that the event was threatened with cancelation. Steps were taken to regain some control. There were no beer or wine sales from booths on the street. No open containers of alcohol are allowed on the street during the fair. There is no advertising for the fair in the local media. Posters for the event are only displayed in the Haight neighborhood. The fair still draws a huge crowd.
The weather was perfect. We walked through Golden Gate Park to get there. On the way we stopped at the Spreckels Temple of Music to hear a few songs by The Golden Gate Park Band. The Golden Gate Park Band plays in military style uniforms. It was quite a contrast with the acts we’d see at the fair. They were playing in their annual Band Festival. Bands from around California would play at the park today. We sat near a band that had just arrived from Modesto. The music is nice and relaxing. They’re playing on a Victorian era stage. It’s a scene you’d expect in a small town square. It reminds me of the cult TV hit, The Prisoner. 
We crossed Stanyan Street into the fair. There were cyclone fences and a few equipment trucks. Amoeba Records is near the stage. A Punk Rock band called The Nerv was blasting. It must have been strange for them to be playing in the sun.
The fair is too crowded. Haight Street is on a bit of a slant and you can look up the street and see the mass of humanity ahead. Some booths at the Haight Street Fair have products and causes you won’t see at other San Francisco street fairs. There were booths for cannabis products and booths for political causes. We saw many of the same booths from other street fairs. We’re not too interested in the fair itself. We’re here to see the last two acts that will play the biggest stage, the Stanyan Street Stage.
We had time to walk a couple of blocks up Haight Street. This fair is one of the ultimate people watching events. Young guys in gang attire loped down the street next to old Hippies. Many dressed up for the fair. There were odd hats and many feathers. It was a day to get that old Sixties outfit out of the closet.  
We had our traditional order of fried artichoke hearts and grabbed a spot on the pavement. The City’s controversial sit and lie laws would not be enforced today. We did see a pair of San Francisco policemen confiscating beers and pouring them out. There have been crackdowns on drinking at these events before. This time they really mean it. 
A young gypsy traveller rolled a small crystal ball around his fingers. He was set up on a rug seeking donations. It didn’t look like much of an act. He rolled the ball around his body and did show some skill. He wasn’t getting much business. 
We went back to the Stanyan Stage to see Chuck Prophet. Kathy kept voluminous notes while I monitored the crowd. Chuck Prophet could easily blend into most of the bars on Haight Street. He wore a red flannel shirt and a hat.   
The band sounds great. They play powerful Rock and Roll. Prophet is a veteran Punk Rocker. His music is closer to Americana now, but the songs still have Punk roots. Kathy says they’re “Springsteenesque.” Sometimes he sounds like Ray Davies. I learned later that it was his wife, Stephanie Finch, played the keyboards. 
“Storm Across the Sea” is a powerful rocker. “Play That Song Again.” 
We saw the beleaguered Ross Mirkarimi walking through the crowd. He had been elected Sheriff in the November 2011 election. Shortly after being sworn in, he pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Now the City was spending a bundle of money on hearings to see if he should still be Sheriff. It’s a juicy story, and the local media is having a field day. Few people seem to recognize him, but some do greet him. One guy with long hair goes up to him and shakes hands.
Many of Prophet’s songs are about San Francisco history. Halloween is a holiday for adults in San Francisco. “Castro Halloween” tells how the huge wild celebration on Castro Street was ended by the fallout from gang shootings. “Halloween was here, but now it’s gone.”  
“The Left Hand and the Right Hand” is a song about porno pioneers, the Mitchell Brothers. “And brothers everywhere,” Chuck says. The brothers made a fortune making porno films including Behind the Green Door with Marilyn Chambers. They opened their “couples friendly” O’Farrell Street Theater in the Seventies. They changed the business in San Francisco, but eventually they became another Bay Area tragedy. 
“Willie Mays Is Up To Bat” is a song about a more pleasant side of the past. It includes references to Carol Doda, Bill Graham, and Playland’s Laughing Sal. “No one knows who’ll make it home tonight.” 
It’s back to the dark side with “White Night, Big City.” The song is about the riots after Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed. Dan White’s lawyers used the Twinkie defense and he was convicted of manslaughter, not murder. After he was sentenced the City erupted. New Mayor Feinstein was trapped in City Hall. Squad cars burned. It became known as “White Night.”  
It was shortly after the tragedy of Jonestown. I had been in San Francisco for three years. I was still learning the native customs. What kind of crazy place is this? The two events changed San Francisco in many ways. 
“Temple Beautiful” is a tribute to a long gone Punk Rock club. The Temple was in the same building on Geary Street that was once the site of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. It’s a post office now.  
It’s time for the last song. “We’re going to get metaphysical on you.” They do “You Did (Who Put the Bomp?)” It’s an odd song. Prophet’s voice is distorted. Prophet only got forty five minutes onstage. In that short time he gave us a great musical San Francisco history lesson.   
For many locals the fair is an annual invasion. Some stores don’t open. Even some of the homeless resent the intrusion. Tubes fans are gathering near the Stanyan Stage. There is pre-Tubes excitement in the air. Seeing them on Haight Street will be special. Some of the crowd have come for the fair, but people near the stage look like dedicated Tubes fans. 
State Senator Mark Leno does a short introduction. Leno is Gay and a very Left leaning politician. He looks at ease, and he shows some guts getting onstage in front of this crowd. “This is a group that predated the Haight Street Fair.” The Tubes have had many hit records he tells us, including “White Punks on Drugs.” Maybe he just couldn’t say the word “dope.” It’s hard to believe he didn’t really know the title to that song. 
We found a spot near the sound tent. It was a glorious day, but being in the sun could become a problem. It wasn’t a bad view of the stage. The sound man looked a bit stressed out. There was a woman holding a spot in front of us on the rail. When the music started she suddenly left. We swooped in.    
The band plays their “Overture.” It’s a reminder of the zaniness and hilarity to come. The band gets to warm up and stretch it out a bit. It’s not just comedy music. These guys are great musicians. Kathy says their sound reminds her of Zappa. 
The Tubes now are: Roger Steen (guitar) Rick Andersen (bass) Prairie Prince (drums) and David Medd. (keyboards)
Rick Andersen is in a black leather jacket and a sailor cap. Steen has a golf cap on. Prairie Prince is wearing a derby. A hat is a good idea on a sunny day like this. I could only catch a glimpse of David Medd behind some speakers.  
Fee Waybill comes onstage in a white jacket and a golf hat that reminds us of Bing Crosby. He’s carrying a cigarette and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black that has very little left in it. Fee is the friendly romantic crooner.  
I’ve seen him onstage so many times I feel like I know him. Maybe I do. He plays many roles, including the obnoxious Rock star. Even Quay can be friendly in his own extremely intoxicated way. Fee comes across as one of the guys. He’s not a freaky man from Mars or England. Well, not until the end of the show. I saw him play softball a couple of times in the Sunset. He played third base with “Waybill” across the back of his jersey. It was odd to see him in the real world on a softball diamond.  
“I Am Looking For Someone.”   
The second song is a great version of “This Is A Man’s World.” They do sound like James Brown and the Famous Flames. They bring some old Rhythm and Blues to Haight Street. Fee is an entertainer!  
I first learned of The Tubes from an article in Rolling Stone in 1972. Rock became more theatrical in the early Seventies. The Tubes had a reputation for putting on a wild stage show. The article said that Fee Waybill catapulted into the crowd during a show in New York and came face to face with Mick Jagger! The Tubes’ theatrics had gotten Mick curious and he was checking them out. Fee was used to surprising and shocking audiences. He said it was a surrealistic moment to come face to face with one of The Rolling Stones.
Kathy saw The Tubes play at Kezar before Led Zeppelin in 1973. “They were not well received.” It was one of the first Day on the Green shows. It took a while for The Tubes to get their musical and stage acts together. 
Fee lights up another cigarette for “Smoke (La Vie en Fumer.)” It’s another slow lounge lizard song. “The world is my ashtray.” Is he doing all these smoking songs today because he can’t do them in clubs anymore? 
“Welcome to the fucking Thirty-fifth annual Haight Street Fair!” Fee tells us they played at the Twenty-fifth Haight Street Fair and hope they’ll play the Forty-fifth! They play “Amnesia” from the Completion Backwards Principle album.  
Having The Tubes headline The Haight Street Fair is a perfect fit. Fee tells us they used to hang out on Haight Street.
I first saw The Tubes at Bimbo’s, a classic old fashioned night club in North Beach. The Tubes had sponsored a Talent Hunt. They said they were looking for the weirdest act in San Francisco. The Talent Hunt was held at The Boarding House with Martin Mull as MC. Robin Williams was one of the losers. Maybe he wasn’t weird enough. The winners would “open” for The Tubes during their run at Bimbo’s. It was a unique San Francisco event. 
A Tubes show was more than your usual night of Rock and Roll. Each song was a short theater piece. At the Bimbo’s shows twenty-five people appeared in different roles. The Tubes were more of a theater group. They were The Cockettes with a great band. Fee was the center of the act, but I’ll never forget seeing Re Styles, Jane Dornacker and Leila dancing! 
The sound man is scrambling around again. Is there something wrong? He’s fiddling with the dials on the soundboard and pouring sweat. Is he just fussing? He looks about sixty. He works at the dials. He slows down. He’s in control again and stops twiddling the dials. Someone passes him a bottle of water.   
Fee: “Every show we ask this question. We get good answers, stupid answers and crazy answers.” It’s “What Do You Want From Life?” The song examines this philosophical question. It becomes a parody of a game show. Fee lists the things we might want from life: “An Indian guru to show you the inner light? A meaningless love affair with the girl you just met tonight?”
  A long haired guy in front of the sound tent is facing away from the stage and singing. It looks like he’s shouting right at the sound man. He seems a bit menacing. “What do you want from life?” he shouts over and over. It looks like he’s yelling it at the sound man. Do they know each other? 
Fee continues to list products and consumer dreams: “A Las Vegas wedding? A Mexican divorce? ... A Winnebago? A Mazda! ... We’re giving them away!” The song ends with the sound man and many in the crowd answering the song’s question by yelling the last line: “A baby’s arm holding an apple!” 
Fee goes backstage. Backstage was just a fenced off and curtained area on the street. It must have been a mad scramble to get Fee into the next outfit. The band plays Link Wray’s classic, “Rumble.” It’s the primal riff, the theme for juvenile delinquents and gang fights. 
The Tubes played great shows on New Year’s Eve. The first one I went to was at the Berkeley Community Theater. The New Year’s Eve show at Winterland may have been their biggest production. There were at least a couple of New Year’s Eve shows at The Kabuki theater in Japantown. There were always surprises on New Year’s Eve. They were wild shows with wild crowds.
The band plays a powerful instrumental, “Turn Me On.” I used to listen to it every day. It’s an energizing song. Fee comes back out in a thong and codpiece. A small toga covers his torso and he’s wearing a Roman style helmet with a wrestling mask over his face. The helmet has a pink feather mohawk as a crest. From a distance he looks like a bizarre chicken. Fee looks in great physical shape. Kathy remarks that only small love handles betray his age.
Someone throws a plastic bottle onstage. Steen sounds irritated: “What’s that?” Someone says, “It’s Fresca.” A stage hand comes out, picks it up and throws it back into the crowd. Truce?  
“This is a song that was written in and for San Francisco!” “I Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk.” The Tubes were present at the creation of the Bay Area Punk scene. They weren’t too impressed with the tough guy attitude of the newer bands. The band plays a bit of dance music while Fee does another costume change.   
The Tubes reflected what was going on in San Francisco during the Seventies. Disco may have been more popular, but San Francisco had a thriving Punk Rock scene. Even at the birth of Punk, The Tubes had been around for a while. I enjoyed Chuck Prophet’s songs about San Francisco History, but The Tubes ARE a piece of San Francisco history. They played a cover of “I Saw Her Standing There.” What would have happened if The Beatles were a Punk band?
It reminded me of The Tubes show at The Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace was a great venue. The Tubes used technology. There were TVs all over the stage staring back at us and two big screens at each side of the stage. Big screens were rare back then. Fee stalked the stage in his Punk Rock persona waving a chain and beating the stage with it. One of the big screens showed us Quay in his dressing room. The two took an immediate dislike to each other. They screamed “fuck you” at each other. Fee is screaming obscenities at himself on the screen. It was a bit of a Punk pissing contest with himself.
This may sound antiquated now when concerts feature laser bombs going off in computer generated synchronization, but having all those TV monitors onstage showing the band live was a big deal back then.   
Fee comes back in a purple pimp suit with a large felt hat. He’s bare chested under the jacket. “You’re Still the Only One.” The ageless Prairie Prince plays a drum solo.
Fee tells us the band moved here in “Nineteen fucking Seventy. I lived at Forty-Eighth and Noriega for years.” It’s not in the Haight neighborhood, but it’s close enough to get a cheer from the crowd anyway. The band didn’t really start until April of 1972 so, “This year is the Fortieth Anniversary of The Tubes!”
“It’s a lovely day in San Francisco! We expected the fog to roll in by now.” Fee says the crowd scared the fog away. Fee responds to someone yelling in the audience. “Take it off?! What the fuck? YOU take it off!” 
“I Don’t Want To Wait Anymore.” It’s a soaring love song. Steen plays a haunting solo. Fee slips offstage.  
The Tubes never got the commercial success they deserved. Much of the money they made went back into the band. The lavish stage productions cost money. They cut back for a while, even abandoning Quay Lewd for a while. Band members clashed and left the group. Bill Spooner left for his own projects. Michael Cotten went back to the art world. Even Fee left the band. Vince Welnick became a keyboard player for the Grateful Dead and met a sad and untimely demise.  
The band played a familiar riff. It’s Iggy’s “Lust For Life!” It was time. Roger Steen introduces Quay Lewd. He says Quay used to hang out on Haight Street! “He cut his teeth on this street.” Fee struggled onstage as Quay Lewd, the decadent British Rocker. There was pornographic war paint on his face. His white hair towered over him. He wore silver pants and the ridiculous Quay Lewd glasses. QUAY was spelled out with holes for his eyes. Quay was precariously balanced on six inch heels. It took him a while to totter onstage.  
“Are there any White Punks on Dope out here today in the audience? I know you’re out there! I know you’re on drugs! I need a fucking beer!” Fee chugs a beer and tosses the bottle aside.
They hit the first chords of “White Punks on Dope.” They’re an electric signal to the crowd. People in the crowd pump their fists to the beat. They’re jumping up and down. The crowd sings along: “We’re White Punks on Dope!” We used to call it “The National Anthem.” 
Hearing the song’s title still makes me laugh. Did they realize when they wrote it that it would become such a classic? This was the high point, the climax of a Tubes show. Everyone would go nuts! Chuck Prophet is onstage and joins in on vocals. He cracks up at Fee’s antics. Fee stumbles and falls, but slowly rises as the synthesizer simulates an angelic chorus. The crowd chants over and over: White Punks on Dope! Fee has been resurrected again! 
In the old days “White Punks On Dope” was quite a spectacle. At some shows they played in front of a Cityscape that included the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid. There would be thirty people onstage. Trapeze artists swung back and forth across the back of the stage. Scantily clad women danced in a chorus line. Giant Quaaludes would chase Fee around. It was theatrical sensory overload. It seemed like anything could happen onstage. 
The Haight crowd let loose. It was a raucous version of WPOD. Fee and the boys gave it their all. The theatrics were cut back a bit, but The Tubes were conquering Haight Street. Half this crowd wasn’t born when The Tubes did this song in the Seventies. They still sang along with veteran fans. 
After the song Quay rants at “All you fucking Hippies!” He says they’ll be right back, but first he has to go backstage and puke. “Or maybe I’ll just use Rick’s hat!” He grabs the sailor hat and they stumble off the stage. I can hear a homeless guy yelling at the crowd, “Get out of here!” He wants his territory back. 
He won’t get it back yet. The MC asks, “Do you want to hear more?” The crowd yells: “Toooobes!” After a short delay they come back onstage. When they return Fee is wearing a garish red and white suit jacket and a white top hat. He’s the carnival barker now. They play what might be their biggest commercial hit, “She’s A Beauty.” “One in a million girls!” Then there’s another rocking song that sticks in your head: “Talk To You Later.” 
As headliners The Tubes got twice as much stage time as anyone else today, but  we still missed some great songs: “TV Is King” “Tubes World Tour” “Mondo Bondage” “Stand Up and Shout” “Boy Crazy” “Sushi Girl” “Telecide” “God Bird Change” There were so many songs and memories. “Don’t Touch Me There” would have been kind of stupid without Re Styles. In 2005 a stash of tapes, photos, posters and other Tubes ephemera were rediscovered in the closet of a former Tubes Fan Club president. Michael Cotten worked on producing a history of the band, The Tubes Project. Plans for a movie and DVD stalled during the economic crisis of 2008. Amazing clips from their early shows can be seen online.
Fee’s in a tee shirt now. They go back to the Sixties for a last surprise, Jimi Hendrix’ “Third Stone From the Sun.” The now ancient jam is an appropriate ending for The Haight Street Fair. Fee plays an enthusiastic air guitar to the instrumental. “White Punks on Dope” may not have had all the theatrical excess of the old days, but the spirit of The Seventies was back today on Haight Street. 

Kathy's Blog is at: KathyOsviews.blogspot.com.