Reeves Gabrels was once a shiny-domed James Bond villain, blasting death-ray guitar weapons at David Bowie fans.
More recently, he lent his firepower to post-punk legends The Cure. So it feels oddly deflating to find Gabrels playing to a few dozen people above a North London pub with his new Nashville-based power trio, the fairly trad-sounding Imaginary Fr13nds. It’s like pulling back the curtain and revealing the Wizard of Oz, an image reinforced by the 59-year-old guitarist’s white-haired, mad-scientist look.
Nodding to Cream and Hendrix, this set is thick with crunchy power chords and brawny blues interludes. Though still best known for the perversely admirable feat of rendering Bowie almost unlistenable for 13 years, Gabrels has always nurtured closet classic-rock leanings, as befits a man who has played with the Stones, Dave Grohl and Ozzy Osbourne.
His self-written material leans towards the wry, conversational style of vintage Lou Reed, but the lyrical highlight of this set is Wish You Were Her, co-written by T Bone Burnett and Bono. Tin Machine’s* I Can’t Read*, featuring a guest vocal by support act Lisa Ronson, is the sole throwback to his Bowie era, which is a shame. This is a meaty and muscular show, but Gabrels could rest on his own experimental noise-punk laurels more, leaving us with ears bleeding rather than just ringing.