Could the Cure be the Grateful Dead of the ‘20s? Despite, of course, sounding nothing like them.
Guitarist Reeves Gabrels — the Cure’s “new” kid in the band, an 11-year-veteran of the group and only American in this quintessentially British band — thinks it’s possible.
“The Cure is an interesting beast,” he says. “Every gig, when I look out, I see multiple generations. When I joined the band, I noticed that, in ways not dissimilar to bands like the Grateful Dead, we were playing for up to four generations at shows. Like David Bowie, we seem to have a certain cachet that lends a certain ‘hipness.’”
Gabrels was also a longtime collaborator with Bowie, first in the Tin Machine and then as guitarist and musical director when Bowie went back to being a solo act.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been continuously involved with bands and musicians who, dead or alive, exert a huge influence on new young bands writing and recording now,” he says. “It’s a weird timelessness.”
Who would have thought the Cure — a band that played the tiny, long-defunct Boston Underground club in May 1980, whose post-punk pop music blasted out at hip dance clubs of the mid-‘80s — would be so popular, so iconic, so evergreen? Especially with bandleader, guitarist, and singer-songwriter Robert Smith threatening to put the band to bed at numerous junctures over the decades.
“That the Cure gets labeled as the ‘original’ goth band is in some ways amusing to us,” Gabrels says, “having had so many perennial ‘pop’ hits and still being thought of as “the gothfathers.’ It’s something that the band itself finds amusing as we do not see ourselves as goth but as just a music band that plays what we write in a style that is our own. Maybe that mystery is part of the key to longevity and generational influence.”
The Cure’s highly anticipated 2023 North American tour comes to the Xfinity Center in Mansfield Sunday for a sold-out show. Expect a concert in the three-hour range — nearly 30 songs, including two long encores.
Gabrels was a late-comer to the Cure, but not to the music world, especially the Boston music world. He spent 20 years in the city, going to Berklee College of Music and playing with groups such as the Bentmen, the Dark, Rubber Rodeo, Modern Farmer, and Club D’Elf. It has, indeed, been a long, strange trip.
He was a well-respected, locally prominent guitarist through the ‘80s and ‘90s. When Bowie came knocking on his door and formed Tin Machine with him in 1988, Gabrels’s profile ratcheted up considerably.
Actually, Gabrels’s journey to the Cure begins with Bowie. He and Smith met in 1997 at Bowie’s star-studded 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden. Smith joined the cast to play Bowie’s “Quicksand” and then a song Gabrels and Bowie had written for Bowie’s “Earthling” album, “The Last Thing You Should Do.”
Smith and Gabrels had connected a few days prior to rehearse. “Robert is a very thorough guy and doesn’t walk into things unprepared,” says Gabrels, on the phone from his upstate New York home last month before the tour started. “We had two days before production rehearsals started, and the next thing I remember is two days later we’re both sitting in a hotel lobby. One of us [said], ‘We should go to bed now.’ Point being, we hit it off to the degree that we went out for two days. Alcohol might have been the leveler.”
Gabrels continued on with Bowie after the birthday gig. The Cure continued on as the Cure, with its ever-shifting personnel. But Smith co-wrote “Yesterday’s Gone” for a Gabrels solo record, and in late 1997, Gabrels played lead guitar on the Cure’s “Wrong Number” single. The players were actually just Smith, Gabrels, and Cure drummer Jason Cooper. The trio also released another track, “Sign from God,” under the name COGASM. (The first two letters of each of the guys’ last names, Gabrels explains, cheekily.)
Gabrels spent the early part of the 2000s recovering from Lyme disease, living in Nashville, and playing clubs there, getting his sea legs back. Out of the blue, he got an e-mail from Smith asking if he would like to join the Cure as a touring guitarist: “‘Do you want to come out and play this summer with us?’ It was that loose. That’d be fun, three months with the Cure. He asked me if I could learn 30 songs in a month. It turned out there were 55 songs.”
First show: “The Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands, May 16, 2012, in front of 70,000, all songs I had never played before in front of people, so that was the trial by fire.” There were 18 more European festival dates to go on the Summercure 2012 tour.
“I was the ‘new guy’ for the first three years,” Gabrels says with a laugh. “Three years of freshman hazing and then suddenly it all settled into place.”
The Cure has a new album in the works, the first since 2008′s “4:13 Dream.” It’s been mixed, and the band plays up to five songs from it on their tour. They’re just not sure when it will come out or what will be on it.
“There is no release date to my knowledge,” Gabrels says. “We went in [the studio] to keep it concise and do 12 songs we’d all written. Then we worked ‘em up as a band, moved ‘em around, normal songwriting things. And I think we ended up recording 34 songs. We overachieved.”
A songwriting analogy Gabrels says he learned from Bowie: “It’s like trying to get a fire started outdoors, camping. You’ve got flint and kindling and you all have to crowd around it and protect it from the wind so that spark turns into a flame. And you don’t judge the quality of the fire when it’s just the spark. So, we’re in the ‘unfortunate’ position of having 34 pretty good-looking fires going. My point was we couldn’t judge them; we couldn’t see which ones to take to the final stage.”
The Cure has its moody, dark, expansive side — almost like a post-punk Pink Floyd without the venom. But also, the poppier, hit-singles side represented by “Love Cats,” “Let’s Go to Bed,” “Friday I’m in Love, “Just Like Heaven,” and many more.
“There are several periods of the Cure,” says Gabrels, adding that the newer material tilts toward the moodier side. “The beauty of having perfect pop songs is that when you go dark you can really go dark and then, well, I have this image of lifting a child out of a swimming pool. They’re soaking wet now and we reach in under their arms and lift them up and take them out of the pool and then they’re happy again.”
The Cure has been playing the unreleased “I Can Never Say Goodbye” in concert (it’s widely available on YouTube), and it’s a heartbreaker.
“We’re grown men at this point,” Gabrels says. “We’ve all lost loved ones. That song is about Robert’s [late] brother. Our ability to express [the emotion in music] is stronger, better, like becoming a better writer. You learn how to make things resonate without having to use as many notes or words. I’ve said it’s a true blues song in a sense: It’s an expression of your life and it’s an expression of your day and in that sense, it is the blues.
“The thing that happens in that song, it’s almost we’re helping each other on a nightly basis get rid of those demons, those pains. Musically, it feels good to have 70,000 people applaud something you just did. That’s an ego thing.”
Gabrels’s wife, Susan, listening from a distance, adds: “Then you make 70,000 people cry who can’t do it for themselves.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Gabrels continues. “We’re there to facilitate a group catharsis, and when I say group I mean everybody in the arena. If we succeed — people leave the show and they feel lighter, better, they feel like they’re not going to kill their boss tomorrow at work — then I’ve done my job and earned my right to do it again tomorrow.”
E-mail Jim Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.