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From outrageous past to fun punk present, the Tubes are still worth hearing

The Tubes, led by Fee Waybill, center, will perform at Thunder Valley tonight.
The Tubes, led by Fee Waybill, center, will perform at Thunder Valley tonight. Courtesy Elmets Communications

It is difficult to believe that there was once a band so outrageous that famous rock promoter Bill Graham vowed to keep them out of the hot San Francisco scene of the mid-1970s. He eventually relented, of course, giving in to the power and the music and the sharpness of the satire of the Tubes, the latest incarnation of which will be on the stage at Thunder Valley on Friday, Feb. 24, in their Talk to Ya Later Tour, named for their 1981 hit.

The outrageousness of the band and its lead singer, Fee Waybill, called Fiji, Fee for short, because of his surpassing-impressive hippie hair, fit right into the mid-1970s when satire was a prevailing force in entertainment, appearing in theater with groups such as the Groundlings, Ace Trucking Company, and Kentucky Fried Theater, as well as in magazines like the National Lampoon. The Tubes, however, were known for excess, both in their stage productions and in the abundant references in their music and performances to the culture of the day.

Waybill, who began as a roadie for the band’s earlier formations, created the biggest sensation and caused the biggest controversy, developing his “Quay Lewd” character for songs such as “White Punks on Dope,” a tribute to their following of white teenage boys in San Francisco. It was all a part of the theater the Tubes created, an ingredient every bit as important as their music. Waybill would supposedly beat up a couple in the front row, throw cocaine (flour) out into the audience, or be crushed under a pile of falling amplifiers.

Things calmed down eventually, and the band went through multiple changes. The shock value of the Tubes has long been lost, yet consider what the band accomplished:

• Mentioned Bob Dylan, Randolph Mantooth and the Winnebago in one song.

• Sent Cher running from a theater with the song “Terrorists of Rock.”

• Satirized the Reagan era’s optimistic tone with an album called “The Completion Backward Principle.”

• Found itself thrown out of what must be a record number of venues, including in Italy by police with machine guns.

• Hosted a talent hunt in San Francisco that was lost by Robin Williams (1976).

The group’s pretty great punk music is still worth hearing, and solid laughs are still to be had. (7:30 p.m.; $21.95-$33.95; thundervalleyresort.com)

Other notes

Joy is prevalent at Thunder Valley because its High Steaks Steakhouse just received the AAA Four-Diamond rating for the sixth consecutive year.

Another classic band is dusted off this weekend at Harrah’s Tahoe, this one second-hand. “One Night of Queen” is a tribute by Freddie Mercury imitator Gary Mullen and his band The Works with a show reportedly packed with references from the original’s peak touring decade, the 1980s. (Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m.; $39; Ticketmaster)

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