CNN launched the first installment of its Tom Hanks-produced docuseries “The 2000s” on July 8 as part of an ongoing effort to frame the not-so-distant past as something already worthy of exhaustive examination. This particular episode focused on “The Platinum Age of Television” and how the medium matured into an artistic breeding ground poised to rival anything that Americans were seeing on the big screen. The impact that shows such as “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and “Mad Men” had on the culture at-large was discussed by some of the most respected minds in the industry while viewers at home were able to relive some of each series’ greatest moments via voiceover narration.
But, like every decade, there was also a significant chunk of time devoted to deconstructing the dog shit that somehow managed to exist in the same moment as all of the genius. Reality television, if one can even call it that, capitalized on society’s thirst for the grotesque as well as its desire to feel superior to whatever irrational subculture happened to be appearing that week, so it can be argued that the seeds of the junk culture we’re currently experiencing were planted when “Survivor” debuted on May 31, 2000. Mark Burnett’s saga of 16 insufferable personalities forced to co-exist on a remote tropical island ushered in a new era of entertainment in which the viewer was no longer invited to engage in anything resembling intellectual thought, and, as a result, “The Bachelor,” “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” were born.
The Tubes are a band that spent the late 1970s feasting on exactly the type of vacuity that American pop culture came to celebrate during the 2000s, so the fact that they haven’t released an album of new material since 1996 feels like a missed opportunity.
Think about it.
What would Fee Waybill have to say about the litany of singing competitions clogging the airwaves? How would he address the decline of the evening news as a reliable source of information? Would the band be inspired to update its satirical “TV is King” mantra for the new millennium?
I’ve been pondering these questions since seeing The Tubes at The Riviera Theatre back in April, because everything about their performance screamed of a continued relevance on the modern stage. Songs such as “Telecide,” “Turn Me On,” and the classic “What Do You Want From Life?” were delivered with the energy and snarl indicative of a group that still has a lot left in the tank. Waybill’s voice and presence were powerful throughout while guitarist Roger Steen’s blistering work on “Mondo Bondage” and “I Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk” contributed to making their set one of the loudest I’ve ever heard in that building.
When he’s not touring with Todd Rundgren, Prairie Prince holds down the fort behind the kit and his performance on “Love’s a Mystery (I Don’t Understand)” highlighted how underrated he is as a drummer. The band as a whole really came together at this moment in the show, because, for as voracious as the crowd was, the band was able to slow things down and show off the progressive side of their musicality. That tenderness was short-lived once “White Punks on Dope” made its appearance, however, complete with Waybill donning a wig and platform shoes to play the role of a glam rocker burned out on the harsh excesses of stardom. If witnessing a guy punch a woman in the face just to obtain one of Prince’s drum sticks wasn’t enough, the sea of drunkenness that enveloped the theatre early on became overwhelming by the time the encore of “She’s a Beauty” and “Talk to Ya Later” hit.
It’s sad that the decade from which The Tubes could derive so much inspiration is the same one responsible for eliminating any incentive for bands to make new records, because the world will likely never get the answers to any of the questions I posed earlier on. Fans, however, can remain upbeat knowing that the live show is still a must-see event full of all the aggression and performance art they remember.