It’s always difficult to begin a story, and none so much as this review of Reeves Gabrels and his Imaginary Friends at The Regent Theatre in Arlington.
See, Reeves and I go way back. The last time I’d seen him play was… my god, was it one of the Tin Machine shows from 1991?? Or maybe a Bentmen extravaganza from around that same time? Whatever it was, it feels like a previous lifetime, one that swirls around half-remembered in my consciousness like a scene from Un Chien Andalou.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Writing and publishing my David Bowie newsletter, and all the accompanying magicians, monsters, mayhem and madness. Feverish travels to Tin Machine shows around the U.S. (and a few years earlier, around Europe as well for Bowie’s 1987 tour). Following all of Reeves’ various incarnations (The Atom Said, Bentmen, Modern Farmer…) up and down the East Coast, and – along with my friend Sean Doherty (god knows what ever happened to him) – operating as a two-person street team before anyone was calling it that. So knocked out was I with Reeves’ considerable talents and his contribution to Bowie’s cool side project, Tin Machine, that I expanded the newsletter to include a newsletter within a newsletter called “Witness” (named after one of my favorite Atom Said songs), which focused on Reeves’ myriad of non-Bowie projects — much to the chagrin of the Ziggy Stardust crowd.
I pulled the plug on the whole shebang in 1993, and my need for a full exorcism and extraction from that life sadly led me to lose touch with Reeves as well. I’ll now attempt to make up for the last, um, sixteen years. First, a review of a sparsely attended yet wonderful performance with two other really great bands at The Regent Theatre in Arlington. And then a profile of sorts, to catch everyone up (including me) on what Mr. Gabrels has been up to since parting company with Bowie back in 1998.
Starting off the evening (or at least, playing as we arrived a bit late) was this local band who I guess Reeves had invited for this show (so local, they even performed a song about hanging out in Arlington Center, of all things). My friend Victor coined a term for their sound, Prog Rocking – definitely some prog rock influence (evident from their excellent keyboardist), but more focused and driving, not meandering. Brilliant musicians, and quite surprising as a “mere opening band”, as that can sometimes be a dicey proposition. I’m not sure if these were the exact people performing, but their MySpace page gives band members as Brendan Haley, Rafi Sofer, Derek Demulling, and Dave Erickson.
Their lead singer and songwriter, John Powhida, is also in the band The Rudds, and has played with Peter Wolf, Sarah Borges, and The Gentlemen. Speaking with him after their set, he cited two influences, Prince and Joni Mitchell, two names I don’t think one hears spoken in the same sentence too often. Joni Mitchell I’m still not quite certain about, but Prince I can understand, in his vocal styling especially, which in this live setting was unbridled and quite impressive. And while he bears a closer physical resemblance to Todd Rundgren, I got something kinda Bryan Ferry-ish in some of his movements, albeit with extremely quirky, comedic stage banter. Completely unhinged, and wildly engaging. His latest solo recording, “Dirty Birdy and the Funny Bunny” was produced by Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, Warren Zevon), released on Kolderie’s Camp Street label. They’re currently in residence at Toad (July 28, August 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30), so definitely check them out!
Next up was also someone I’d never heard of before, which I now have to say is a great tragedy that it took me so long. Entirely my fault for not seeking out all the amazing talent based here in Boston, and not keeping up with projects of people I’ve admired in the past.
My god, it’s Morphine with Nina Simone sitting in on vocals. Or, dare I say it, a female Mark Sandman, complete with the smoldering sexuality (god bless, after 10 years I still miss you, man…). So where has this woman been all my life??” Absolutely riveting. Now, if I had kept up with the other members of Morphine, I would have known that Dana Colley has been performing with Ms. Ortiz (along with Larry Dersch, who played on Morphine’s “Like Swimming” album) as A.K.A.C.O.D. (Also Known As Colley/Ortiz/Dersch), and released their “Happiness” CD in 2008. She’s also front person and bassist for Bourbon Princess, which features Jerome Dupree (also formerly of Morphine), Russ Gershon (Either Orchestra) and Jim Moran.
For tonight’s performance, she was accompanied – just gorgeously – by Steve Breman on second bass and baritone guitar, and Larry Dersch on drums. An incredibly powerful and beautiful vibe they got going, and I was pulled deep into it. Monique’s lovely bass and slide bass perfectly compliments her amazing, sensuous voice. Her recorded works include three full length albums with Bourbon Princess – Stopline (2000), Black Feather Wings (2003), and Dark of Days (2005) (and the Jerkoff EP (2003)); one solo album entitled “Reclining Female”; and Happiness with A.K.A.C.O.D. (2008). Upcoming appearances include the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on August 29, Plough & Stars in Cambridge on September 4, and the Lancaster Dispensing Co. in Lancaster, PA on September 5.
Ah, fantastic to see Reeves again after so long, but also kinda creepy thinking about the passage of so much time. And yet at a moment like this, all the memories come rushing back.
The “imaginary friends” are Kevin Hornback on bass and Jeff Brown on drums, and they seemed very real to me, and very smooth and comfortable performing with each other, which resulted in a really tight sound and an onstage camaraderie that suggests they know each other really, really well. They held things together nicely while Reeves ventured off into uncharted musical territories as he’s rather known to do.
Like others who follow their own lead, Reeves has had his detractors through the years. I’m not really a “guitar enthusiast”, nor do I have set ideas of what I like and don’t like. I’ve enjoyed very experimental sorts of music, mainstream bands as well; heck, even some country and classical. There are those who might accuse Reeves of guitar wankery at times (knowing him, he’d probably agree), yet he’s never failed to amaze me with his creativity and virtuosity, and delight those of us who enjoy his quirky take on classic rock and blues. After all these years, he still plays like a creature from another planet, and incredibly, he still sings like Neil Young. But above all, he never takes himself too seriously. He has fun. Imagine that!
Pulling up Tin Machine’s Wikipedia entry cracked me up just now – “The group was generally reviled, often receiving scathing critical reviews.” Yes. I recall when Tin Machine first came on the scene, those who hated the band (and that was about 95% of Bowie’s fans) generally blamed Reeves, as though he had led David into some skanky, darkened alley, blindfolded and gagged, and forced him to take some daring musical chances, jump around and sweat, and not worry so much about Billboard charts and fancy hairstyles.
At The Regent, Reeves and his friends performed a mix of selections from his solo albums (“Come Back” from The Sacred Squall of Now, “Arrow” and “Accident Waiting to Happen” from Ulysses, and “Leper” from Rockonica); a track from his work with Robert Smith of the Cure; a T-Bone Burnett composition, a Jimmy Reed song called “Bright Lights, Big City”; “Messing With The Kid” (in Reeves’ words, a “Buddy Guy/Jr. Wells meets Yes kind of thing”), and the Tin Machine track “Bus Stop” (great to hear that one again!). I’m missing a few, I know, but you’ll forgive me, right? All sorts of strange memories bubbled up during their set, of times long ago and lands far away. The atmosphere was friendly and loose (make that really loose), a ridiculously small turnout (I’ll be on top of it next time he comes around, I promise), but a deeply appreciative, home town audience. Wacky banter between songs, at one point paying tribute to Gidget, the Taco Bell Chihuahua who had sadly passed the day before. Hopefully The Regent’s pitiful promotion (as in none whatsoever, save for a brief article in the Globe the day before and a page up on their website) won’t deter Reeves and the others from coming back to Boston. Maybe to a venue that advertises in the Phoenix – a publication that people who go to see rock bands actually look at.
After their set, Reeves told me they’ll be back in town around September/October, and also with another band he’s in, JEEBUS, which he described as “Weezer meets Faith No More” (scary!), and with Club d’Elf as well. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for these, and will keep everyone posted.
“Leper” – Regent Theatre, Arlington
MySpace (for Reeves Gabrels and his Imaginary Friends)
MySpace (Reeves’ page)
Reevz.net (“the official ‘unofficial’ Reeves Gabrels site”)
“Come Back” – Regent Theatre, Arlington
Reeves Gabrels’ Projects A.D.B.
(I decided to include his other work during the 90’s as well).
Worked with Robert Smith of The Cure, collaborating on The Cure’s track “Wrong Number” and “A Sign From God” (as COGASM), and co-wrote the song “Yesterday’s Gone” which Smith sings on Reeves’ album Ulysses. Toured with Paul Rodgers. Released The Sacred Squall of Now solo album (Rounder/Upstart, 1995). Joined forces with slide guitarist David Tronzo on an instrumental album, Night in Amnesia, issued by Rounder in 1995 (and performed live with him as well). Contributed to film soundtracks, including David Sutherland’s The Farmer’s Wife (Frontline, 1995) and for PBS productions, and collaborated with Public Enemy on the song “Go Cat Go” for the Spike Lee film He Got Game (soundtrack, Def Jam, 1998). Wrote the “club music” portions of the soundtrack for the video game Deus Ex.
Ulysses (della notte) released on CD (E-magine, 2000). Designed a guitar, the Fernandes RG signature model. Live, Late, Loud. Live recording, with Paul Ill on backing vocals and bass, Brock Avery on drums, and Greg “Elroy” McMullen on backing vocals, pedal steel, baritone, and guitar. (Myth Music, 2003). Something called “The Engine Room project” (which included a 10-song live DVD), “stalled out” in 2004. According to Reeves in a recent interview on Reevz.net, the audio was mixed by Tim Palmer, and the film is complete and edited except for the end titles.
2005 – Rockonica solo album (Myth Music/Favored Nations/Sony, 2005). Gabrels appears with Club D’Elf on Now I Understand, (Accurate Records, 2006), the first studio recording by Boston-based underground dub/ jazz/ Moroccan/ trance/ electronica group led by bassist Mike Rivard; the album also features John Medeski & Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin & Wood), DJ Logic, Mat Maneri, Duke Levine, Alain Mallet, Mister Rourke, and more. A number of collaborations with Stefan “Big Swede” Svensson including the Protecto, Razor Ball, and X-World/5 releases, beginning in 2006. Moves to Nashville, Tennessee.
German record label AFM releases New Universal Order by X-World/5, a Heavy metal supergroup made up of guitarists Gabrels and Andy LaRocque, vocalist Nils K. Rue, bass player Magnus Rosén, and Los Angeles-based drummer Big Swede. Since 2006, Reeves has been based in Nashville, Tennessee where he often performs in a trio with drummer Jeff Brown and bass player Kevin Hornback (“Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends”). Performances at Nashville’s The Family Wash (which is owned by Jamie Rubin, formerly of Modern Farmer). Regular Tuesday night shows (also at The Wash) with The Magnificent Others (Jamie Rubin, Marco Giovino, Reeves on guitar and Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil) on upright bass). They apparently has an album out on Victory/Polygram, but I can’t find it online at all. Anyone? Worked with Reverend Guitar on a signature model guitar which was announced at the Summer NAMM Show.
(from recent interview on Reevz.net)
Another run of dates in the fall with The Imaginary Friends. Live shows in August and September with CLUB d’ELF, with the Brooklyn based band JEEBUS and with Jed Davis.