Reeves Gabrels wields his vibrator like a seasoned professional, because after all, he is one. His guitar screams its... (one hesitates to call it this ...) ecstasy as he moves it up and down the strings. "I have this constant problem with the guys from [Nine Inch] Nails putting condoms on it. The problem is it doesn't work as well with a condom on it -- unlike other things," says Gabrels. But we won't go into this any further, although the stories about his Belmont-esque shopping trips (sometimes with David Bowie) are even more amusing than you might think.
We won't start in with Reeves' new solo album "The Sacred Squall of Now," which is a brilliant series of guitar-focused pieces sung by all sorts of cool people. But we will get there, don't worry. We'll even talk about the strange origin of the song, "Firedome."
For now, let's blow through a little relevant history of Mr. Gabrels (who really doesn't like to be called Mr.) He grew up in New York, spent some times in art school and then went to the Berklee school of music in Boston (which he has called home for a number of years now). He met Bowie during the 'Sound and Vision: Bowie retires his greatest hits' tour and they hit it off as fellow art school people. Reeves didn't even mention that he played guitar because he didn't want it to seem that he wanted something from Bowie. He felt that the chances of ever playing with Bowie were slim so "why soil the experience by even bringing it up." Later, of course, it was hard to hide that Reeves was a guitarist (maybe the column he writes for GUITAR PLAYER was the give away...) One thing led to another which led to the founding of Tin Machine.
Tin Machine was a rock band without compromise. Four men on a small stage. Two have cigarettes stuck in the necks of their guitars, one (guess which!) has a bunch of vibrators hanging from his mic stand. One has a small baby doll hanging in front his bass drum bouncing with the beat. Oh, and one just happened to be David Bowie.
"People were like 'Well, it's not like David.' You're fuckin' right: It's like Tin Machine," says Reeves.
Tin Machine went on hiatus (you never know, they might come back) and Reeves continued to work with Bowie, first on "Black Tie White Noise," which didn't fair too well, and now on "Outside." This latest disc is a return to the Bowie/Eno collaboration that produced such ground breaking albums as "Heroes" and "Low," which influenced bands like Nine Inch Nails, who play before Bowie (and with him on fours song) on this tour.
Reeves opens with a 20 minute set from his solo album. The disc features Reeves' vast collection of guitar sounds (no keyboards or synths here) coupled with vocals from Bowie, Charlie Sexton, Frank Black, Gary Oldman (yes, the actor) and Reeves himself. Inspriation came from such random sources as a car manual. Seems his '55 Firedome is a V8. "The melody is based on the firing pattern," says Reeves. When he was fixing it one day, he found a listing of the valves and the sequence they fire. He translated those into the 8 notes of the scale and bingo: a melody.
The set is a different experience for Reeves who is much more accustomed to small clubs that huge outdoor venues, like the World. Reeves says that it has been a running joke "If somebody hit me with a spotlight I would find a way to step out of it. It's some sort of survial thing that's encoded in my DNA that my tribe learned many years ago."
With performances like he is putting out (now to a new, huge audience) he had better start getting used to the spotlight.