Let’s Make Some Noise: The Tubes on German TV’s “Musikladen” in 1981, performing a rarely-seen full concert

By on October 7, 2016

On April 24, 1981, the Tubes appeared on a German TV show, Musikladen,” in order to present a few concert faves along with all the new songs from their newly-released LP The Completion Backwards Principle in front of a select studio audience at Radio Bremen, a performance which was then broadcast throughout Germany and several other European countries a few weeks later (months before the launch of MTV). Watch the entire rarely-seen concert now on Night Flight Plus!

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At their late 70s peak, their expensive-to-produce live show featured choreographed dance numbers and acrobats, and lots of cinematic allusions to films (Dr. Strangelove, Wild Women of Wongo, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, Saturday Night Fever, Rollerball and many more); TV shows (“Let’s Make A Deal” and other games shows, in particular); literature and lots of other cultural totems that they knew their audience would appreciate.

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Much of the madness was captured in a double-live album What Do You Want From Live? (recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1978), which was followed by an extensive tour of the U.S., with a sold-out bunch of full-fledged production numbers at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, shows that were reportedly attended by celebrities like Cher, Gene Simmons of KISS, and the cast of TV’s “Laverne and Shirley.”

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Those who saw the show will not likely have forgotten how Cher freaked out because the band performed a fake bomb threat song called “The Terrorists of Rock,” which she thought was real, fleeing the theater for her life (she later realized what had happened, and asked the Tubes to appear on her next TV special, the inventively-named “Cher… Special.”

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1979’s Remote Control — their fourth studio album, produced by, and with songs co-written by, Todd Rundgren, all of it based around the concept story told in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There, about a TV-addicted idiot savant — was accompanied by yet another elaborate new stage show, which the band tested out at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. This time, however, the entire stage production itself was scrapped when the band realized that the shows and the productions were overshadowing the music.

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The Tubes — Fee Waybill, Bill Spooner, Roger Steen, Vince Welnick, Prairie Prince, Rick Anderson and Michael Cotton — decided they needed to re-group, and in 1980 ended up holding an auction and selling off various stage props — built at The Tubes Warehouse by the band, crew and friends — before playing their first shows as a straight, no-frills rock band during a sold-out run at the Roxy in West Hollywood.

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Clearly, they’d reached a crucial point in their career where they realized the focus needed to be put back on the recordings, which weren’t selling as well as their record company had hoped (indeed, by the early 1980s, they found themselves in debt to A&M records, even after selling their song rights for tour support).

Waybill, a Method-trained actor, was also ready to ditch his alter-ego stage persona — Quay Lewd, the androgynous wigged-out, platform-wearing semi-clad Brit-speaking frontman with a large fake dildo hanging out of his costume — at least for the time being.

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As you can see in this 1981 German TV performance, Waybill would be soon enough stripping off the DEVO-ish blue jumpsuit that he and the rest of the band are wearing at the start of the show and by its climax eventually clad in just a thong and platform heels and other wacky costume closet accessories, cavorting with three athletic backup dancers (one of them Cynthia Rhodes of Xanadu and Runaway movie fame), showing the relatively sedate German TV audience that he hadn’t totally given up the performance aspects of their theatrical stage show.

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Costume changes, in fact, continue to be one of Waybill’s favorite things to do onstage, switching back and forth from football gear, fetish black leather, a snorkeling outfit complete with flippers, and a business suit.

Despite the wardrobe wackiness, the stage show that they had become known for — which had featured S&M bondage, simulated sex acts, exploding television sets, live chainsaws and semi-nude dancers fully gyrating to all of the overtly sexual overtones of the songs — was now being toned down for their new songs, although with Fee Waybill still front and centerstage, the main focus of the band’s live shows still combined comic bits, slapstick schtick and that satirical edge they were known for.

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During the 90-minute Mike Leckebusch-directed live show — which opens with an introduction by a comely German news anchorwoman (actually, she’s a Musikladen TV host) — the band and several flexible dancers and assorted extra participants brought to life songs from their newly-released album, The Completion Backwards Principle (released in April 1981) before a select studio audience at Radio Bremen, which is also where episodes of the popular German show Beat Club,” had been taped (click on that link and read the posts where we’ve mentioned that TV show a few times before here on Night Flight).

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The Completion Backwards Principle was considered a comeback effort of sorts for the Tubes, and represented continuing growth within the San Francisco-based band as they moved from the outrageous glammed-out Zappa-meets-Bowie art rock sound of their 1970s albums — “White Punks on Dope,” “What Do You Want from Life?,” “Don’t Touch me There,” and “Mondo Bondage” are among their most memorable hits from that earlier era — and began veering more towards a progressive, radio-friendly commercial sound that was more in step with the more accomplished and potent new wave sound that radio stations preferred at the time.

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With help from industry bigwigs like mega-producer David Foster and lots of advice from people working for their band management — not to mention those employed by their new label, Capitol Records — they began toning down the X-rated stuff and started focusing on being more accessible, taut and tight.

The Completion Backwards Principle was actually supposed to be a satire of Reagan’s “Morning in America” corporate movement (Reagan had been inaugurated president in January of 1981), and featured promo photos of the band members cleaned up and wearing suits.

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The wildness of their earlier performances of the 70s-era songs was jettisoned somewhat for Completion Backwards Principle, though, it’s safe to say, and by 1981 the focus seemed to be turned away from Waybill’s wackiest antics and re-focused on the accomplished musicians in the band — two guitarists, Steen and Spooner, two keyboardists, Welnick and Cotton, bassist Anderson and drummer Prairie Prince — who get the chance to showcase the musical prowess they’d had all along which was being slightly overshadowed.

While Waybill’s emphasis still seems to be on the costumes, choreographed stage moves and theatrical tableaus of one type or another, the band — wearing primary colors, mostly blue and red, throughout — charge their way through the album’s seventeen songs, beginning with an “Overture,” while Waybill and the dancers in headlight helmets do a robot routine that certainly seems like something you’d seen in the early 80s.

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The real fun begins after Waybill strips off his blue jumpsuit and belts out “Matter of Pride,” then he’s off to the races, straddling a TV set during “TV is King,” and climbing up behind Prairie Prince’s drum riser during “Think About Me,” and eventually bumping and grinding his way through the band’s hit song, “Talk To Ya Later,” a tune co-written by Waybill, David Foster and Toto’s Steve Lukather (they’d also written “She’s A Beauty” for the band).

By the time the Tubes are singing about “Sports Fans,” Waybill has changed into a basketball jersey and a jockstrap, and he’s swinging a golf club and dancing furtively with the back-up girls, who are now dressed up in cheerleader outfits, sure to get the good ol’ red-blooded Americans in the audience (if there are any) roarin’ to their “rah rah” cheers.

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Things take a bit of a darker turn for “Amnesia,” and “Mr. Hate,” and by this time Waybill is fully embracing a new character, possibly a sociopath, who takes a “hostage” and then confronts a couple of “cops” in hot pursuit.

The show’s only half over at this point as the Tubes offer up live versions of “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” and “Smoke (La Vie En Fumer),” with Waybill now slipping around in the shadows in a trenchcoat and fedora like some kind of noir film detective, then another costume change — this time into a three-piece suit — brings us to the S&M fantasia “Mondo Bondage,” with our frontman now wearing ass-less chaps while the trio of dancers gyrate around him.

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After “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” — amazingly, despite all the FM airplay of their biggest songs, this track with lead vocals by Bill Spooner would give the band their first Top Forty hit in the U.S. — we’re treated to a two-fer of “Power Tools”/”Business Dance,” followed up by a boogie rock number, “Don’t Slow Down,” and everything winds up with the beach movie parody “Sushi Girl,” featuring Waybill in the aforementioned snorkel and swim trunks.

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Waybill wades into the audience — who are probably a little stunned by what they’ve seen at this point — for a grand finale of “Let’s Make Some Noise,” many of them obliging the singer with a little bit of vocal help.

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Fee Waybill — we helped celebrate his birthday last year with this post — would eventually embark on a varied and storied career that including some acting roles (appearing in Xanadu with the band, and as the lead singer, Lou Corpse, the washed-up frontman of the Metal Corpses, a band in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, which we told you about here.)

Check out the Tubes: Live at German Television – The Musikladen Concert 1981, over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.