The Tubes put their creativity and art skills mainly into their live performances, in which songs could be full fledged production numbers, from a beach movie parody for "Sushi Girl", to leather clad S&M hijinks in "Mondo Bondage", to the game show antics of "What Do You Want From Life?" At their peak, their live act featured dozens of other performers, including tap dancers and acrobats. The Tubes' stage productions were choreographed by Kenny Ortega and featured cast members Jane Dornacker, LeRoy Jones, Michael Holman, Michael Springer, Edwin Heaven, Cindi Osborn, Heline Gouax, and Mary Niland from 1975-1977. From 1978-1979, the cast included Sharon Collins, Caty Bevan, and Loryanna Catalano. The Completion Backward tour featured Shelly Pang, Cheryl Hangland, and Cynthia Rhodes. From 1983-1985, Michelle Gray (who later married Rundgren) and Cheryl Hangland were principal dancers. Several crew members — including Tour Manager Steve "Chopper" Borges, Lee Collins, and Gail Lowe — made frequent appearances on stage in various roles as well.
The Tubes' live shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s were rife with allusions to mainstream film (Dr. Strangelove, Rollerball, Saturday Night Fever, Grease), then-forgotten B-movies (Wild Women of Wongo, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), music (Tom Jones, punk rock, a medley of Nelson Riddle television themes), contemporary pop culture (Patty Hearst, the Viking program), television (Let's Make a Deal, Fernwood 2Nite, the anime Raideen), and literature (Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side), presaging the subcultural reverence and over-the-top theatricality of later groups like The World/Inferno Friendship Society.
These shows were expensive to produce, however, and while they earned the band a reputation for being one of the most entertaining live acts of all time, by the early 1980s, they found themselves short of money.