Live performance review from Underground Legends
2. When In Doubt
5. Take Me There
7. You Want Me Don’t you
As part of its 15th anniversary year, tonight’s Underground Legends night featured favourite bands that have performed at least six times on Underground stages. Which means, as a staunch Undergrounder, I probably should have been more familiar with The David Bowie Knives. I’ll explain why I wasn’t (it’s not a particularly interesting story, natch) – I’ve definitely seen them before but as befits their elder statesmen status they tend to take to the stage a bit later in the running order. Which means by then I’ve usually liberally availed myself of the refreshment tent and everything becomes a bit of a blur. Don’t blame me! If you weren’t so successful I’d remember you more clearly!
In a way this is a good thing – it means I can assess them from a fresh perspective, free of hyperbole. Other than what I’m about to write of course, because they were awesome, and totally justified their reputation as no-nonsense rockers.
Humorous start to first track “Foreplay” with lyrics I could catch – “MTR, Escalator, Wan Chai, Sexual Favours, Causeway Bay, Space Invaders” … difficult to rhyme anything with Sham Shui Po, so high marks for difficulty from the off. Great punky vibe, with singer/guitarist Shaun Martin producing a lovely rasp from his Gretsch. Just thinking though … Space Invaders? When was this written again?
I’m hearing a bit of the pub-swagger of Oasis, Americana rock-ballad acts like Grandaddy and Mercury Rev and even Starsailor (but with much ruder lyrics). You can see why these guys are still local live favourites after so many years – they combine classic rock sensibilities with memorable melodies and great audience interaction. And there’s some great storytelling – “Your eyes are telling lies, but not when I’m between your thighs” – we’ve all been there buddy (OK, it’s been a while).
It was an über entertaining set with never a dull moment, highpoints including “Love” and the aforementioned “Thighs” with its deliciously melancholy country-rock vibe. Inspirational drummer Gabe was a joy to watch and hear and played a major role in the overall vibe while Alistair was not only fluid on bass but his occasional backing vocals really added to the mix. There was even a ‘Free the Nipple’ moment at the end but hey, rock ‘n’ roll! At least Alistair didn’t disrobe – “moobs” he told us – phew!
– Dan Creffield
Live review from The Underground “Back to its Roots” Festival Part 1:
2. When in Doubt
6. Take Me There
7. You Want Me Don’t You?
“I can’t swear, I can’t swear,” sang Shaun Martin, substituting a particularly tawdry verse onstage at the family-friendly AIA Carnival. It was a little late for that, after the David Bowie Knives frontman’s reaction to a torrent of feedback at the start of the set was a hearty “Shit!” bellowed into the mic.
One of only two bands to have played The Underground events 10 times, DBK are old hands and old friends, and take to the stage like an insane, profane hurricane. Opener Foreplay is a shouty, punk ode to Hong Kong in all its frenetic, MTR and escalator-driven glory, crowned with a dirty blues solo.
Over the rumbling bass line of Thighs to the 90s britrock guitar of Love, Martin’s voice was a ragged Liam Gallagher-esque snarl revelling in risqué lyrics and in-yer-face riffs. It’d be dad rock if it wasn’t so simultaneously smart and filthy, and held together by three quality players, including the brilliant Gabe Andre on drums.
“We all like money, yeah?” the singer said, Money, a slower number with cymbal-led rhythm, fed into final tracks Take Me There and You Want Me Don’t You? It wasn’t a warm night, but it was shirts off time for the final song; an ode to sex, with lascivious lyrics and grubby guitar grooving. Like Eagles of Death Metal, if Jesse Hughes sang about his “sticky white love piss.
Goals: record another record, get fatter.
– El Jay
Live Review from Underground 113
Next up were the guys making their ninth visit to the Underground’s stage, but this time with one major difference; they’re one album old. Having released an album always places bands in a very interesting situation; how should they handle the fact that they now have songs in a publicly-available form, which can be accessed at any time? Should they change their live setlist entirely, or slowly move away? By default, their new songs will be compared to the recorded, older ones, which places them at a disadvantage – songs on a first album usually have an incubation time of a few years, within which they are honed and made increasingly better. A new song that’s not quite been entirely arranged and figured out to the band’s satisfaction will, naturally, suffer by comparison. There’s obviously no set answer to this, but one good way to handle this would be to do what tDBK did – start with one of your better-known songs, and intersperse the rest of your set with old and new songs. In this regard, the setlist you see above is well-constructed; it allows them to be crowd-pleasers by playing songs that are likely someone’s favourites, while also beginning the process of moving along to newer songs, and the band deserves credit for this. (Some other local bands that have done this well that come to (my) mind are Logo, Hungry Ghosts and Shotgun Politics.)
A second thing that the band did well, possibly better than any other band I’ve heard playing at Backstage, is that they somehow made the sound work perfectly for them, with the exception of Berri Txarrak. The chunky sound that they got from the guitar, the searing, simmering high notes of the guitar, the smooth and punchy bass – they all sounded perfect where I was standing. It’s usually been a struggle for bands to make the Backstage setup work for them, and Backstage has been conscious of this, and has been moving towards solving this over the years, so credit all around on this one.
Finally, the band played a typically smooth set. They’re very good at playing live, which will be attested to by almost anyone who’s seen them (which should include you, if you haven’t already, really). Each band-member is very good at the instrument they play, and I need sing no more paeans to drummer Gabe’s sheer skill, and they know how to write a song to make it catchy and hooky. If you visit their page of reviews on the Underground, you’ll find several references to bands like Nirvana and Oasis (to take just two examples), and I think this has more to do with the fact that tDBK know how to arrange songs in a manner that hooks listeners, just like Nirvana and Oasis did. For a band that started off “wanting to sound like Supergrass” (not an exact quote, mind you) they’re much heavier and bluesier, and this is for the best. In fact, I’ll add another name to the mix of comparisons and say that they sound like the middle ground between Supergrass and The Doobie Brothers. Coincidentally, Foreplay begins with a rhythm similar to China Grove. Their newer songs are true to their style; lots of soaring voice and simple, bluesy guitar solos, sounding like heavy Britpop, of which Take Me There was particularly good. They finished the set with their classic You Want Me…, with its highly sing-along-able final lyric “I believe in rock ‘n’ roll, and rock ‘n’ roll believes in me”, and the feel in the room couldn’t have been better, which is the best testament to a set terrifically done.
— Shashwati Kala
Live Review from Underground 98:
The David Bowie Knives know how to please a crowd. Throughout their set, they made references to Hong Kong, which the crowd loved. The lead singer had a unique style of singing and has an accent when he sings. For a three piece band, they sounded very ‘full’ and it felt like there were more than just three people on stage. They had great stage presence and were obviously very comfortable on stage and with the audience. During their second song, they got the audience clapping so points for audience participation!
They are pretty much the definition of rock and roll with their in-your-face lyrics and big movements on stage. I loved how brutally honest they were with the words in their songs. Towards the middle of their set, the crowd was getting really into it and it felt like one big party. Their fifth song entitled Money was my favorite. They said it was their more ‘mellow number’ but it was one that stood out. I found myself smiling half way through because of the lyrics and how true they were!
The David Bowie Knives are a blend of Nirvana, Jet and Iggy Pop and The Stooges. The introduction of their song ‘Thighs” reminded me of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, which is a good thing as Nirvana is probably as good as it gets.
This night was not like any other as it was the lead singer’s birthday and he was serenaded with a happy birthday song from the audience (or 50 Nigella’s, either way works) and presented with two mouth-watering cakes. The David Bowie Knives were asked to play one more song to end their set and they killed it. They are definitely not afraid to go all out and they are not afraid to sing about anything and everything.
Live Review from Underground 88:
No seriously. I’ve had the pleasure of watching many a DBK show, and they have always been nothing short of great. On this particular night, they somehow managed to outdo their own high standards. Maybe it was due to the late starting time allowing for more beers to be had, pure speculation , but they were really on form. With no disrespect to the other bands, the difference between the DBK and the other acts, was night and day. In fact, I’m sure if you asked the other acts, they would honestly agree. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the music the Knives play, it’s good old rock’n’roll that makes you shake your hips and let your hair loose. All the songs tell interesting, VERY interesting stories. My favourite song, is surprisingly their slowest one called Money. I have no idea why as well. I think it’s because I’m always hella broke. What the Knives do is, play all the small things very well, making their greater sound , tight as hell. Some may say, it’s all very simple, but dear reader, simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve. I feel like I’ve said that too many times before. One of the pinnacles of the mammoth set, was when the Sound Engineer (Zane) came onstage with his Saxophone and played an amazing little solo. It just added to the fun and good vibe that the Knives always bring, and it can be seen in the audience. My buddy and I were watching this beautiful Chinese girl who was smiling from ear to ear dancing along to the tunes. Her boyfriend was behind her also enjoying the music, and trying from time to time to dance with her, but she wasn’t having ANY of it. I think now I truly understand why they call themselves Sex Rock. In a nutshell, The Knives are the only band in HK who can sing “I’m gonna fuck your sister”, “Don’t suck the dick of that gastropod” and chant ‘Bukake”several times, and not only get away with it. Everyone laps it up. Ku-fuckin’-dos.
Tim – Hong Kong Independent Music Blog
Message from The David Bowie Knives about CD 2 Launch Party B:
What can we say, a great evening to be had!
A great atmosphere and great bands.
An obvious highlight for us was watching Poubelle doing a cover of She’s The One as we looked on quite bewildered! Also watching Po Kei F.T.T. breaking a string….again! But personally, I really enjoyed watching Gabe nearly destroying the drum kit and also watching someone stealing Ali’s microphone halfway through a tune! Everyone’s a critic eh?!
Cheers Chris, Koya and all the Underground Crew. The CD sounds rockin!
Live Review from Halloween Underground:
The David Bowie Knives may not be the best band in Hong Kong but they claim to be the sexiest with their heavy britrockish sound reminiscent of classic bands like The Happy Mondays and Oasis. Ok,this was a fun set from a band who like to entertain with some obvious influences from Britrock. On vocals Shaun has a snarly, Liam Gallagher type voice that suits the material well and is backed by a strong rhythm section. The band really entered into the Halloween party spirit with their crazy costumes and a surreal appearance onstage by a guy in a shower playing with his loofah! The band played hard rock that’s perfect for this type of gig with standout versions of ‘Gastropod’ and ‘You Want Me, Don’t You?’
Live Review from Peabody in Hong Kong:
- 1. Foreplay
3. She’s The One
4. Evening Time
5. Nice Problem
6. You Want Me Don’t You
Blasting a sensual intercourse of swaggering Brit-rock noise, no one but Hong Kong’s one and only sex rock threesome can bang the audience with such intensity. The departure of Brendan has undeniably taken away a certain amount of masculinity, but new bassist Claire’s hotness makes up for it. It would be even more arousing to see her sing or yell a bit though. Without a doubt, Shaun’s curly, floppy hair and Gabe’s powerful, detailed drumming are both sexy and gorgeous as usual.
You Want Me, Don’t You is certainly the orgasm of their set, especially the interlude, in which Shaun moans along with the funky progression in a yearning and rowdy tone, as if he is ready to take off. As soon as the last note is stricken, their cum squirts all over my face. Oh yeah, they sure do.
Live Review from Underground 54:
Shaun – Claire – Gabe
I crack up laughing every time I hear this band’s name. According to my dictionary a bowie knife is a long knife with a blade double-edged at the point, used as a weapon or for hunting by American pioneers. In Johnny Cash’s autobiography he says he had one as a kid on his family’s cotton farm in Arkansas in the 1930s, (along with a smokehouse and a fishing pole). However, it’s the ‘David’ bit in this band’s name that does it. Not because they’re glam and theatrical like Ziggy Stardust but because they have their roots in that early UK rock/ pop alternative scene, the type of artistry that is highly original and not easy to categorise in a single genre. I’d put it in the ‘strange fruit’ basket, like other idiosyncratic, weird alternative rock artists – early Bowie, Goldfrapp, Beck (U.S.), The White Stripes(U.S.). Again The David Bowie Knives are this, but they’re not. Because they’re their own thing, which is what a good indie band is. Their brilliant absurdist name really says it all.
Off-stage Shaun the lead singer/ guitarist is self-effacing and softly spoken with a slight Cornish Gaelic lilt. ‘Aye,’ he says ‘aye’. He cites their influences as dirty 70’s pop, like Miss Sugar. Who? I wished he’d given me someone I’d heard of. I know of 70’s-inspired bands that make ‘sugar’ references…Is that the same thing? Ladytron: If I give you sugar, will you give me something elusive and temporary? / The Dandy Warhols: C’mon now, sugar. Bring it on, bring it on now/…See, I know stuff…(*miffed*)
So, their sound is eclectic and novel, and instantly likeable. What strikes you about this band’s sound is that for a three-piece they have a very full sound. Drum guy Gabe’s fast, precise drumming and Claire’s often very melodic and complex bass playing were part of the reason for the rich sound, but so were Shaun’s strong vocals. Depending on the band’s weird-o-meter, some songs had an Iggy Pop and the Stooges punk rock scream-fest feel, while others had a wicked cheek and 70’s bad boy rock vibe about them, not unlike The Who or Jet. The front guy has an open, wild, honest, unapologetic quality on stage, which all amounts to a charisma he’s not trying to put on. It’s just him and he doesn’t seem aware of it. Whereas their musicianship is awesome, the thing for me is how the vocals are delivered. Take Johnny Rotten, Tom Waits or P.J. Harvey as some examples (from gazillions available) of seminal vocalists whose vocals take on a life of own life. Shaun’s own humble take is that he sings ‘by default’ or that he doesn’t ‘sing’ he chants and screams as if he were with the lads down the football. But there’s a lot more to him than that. (Well, he also moans, aahs, sneers and growls a bit, too.)
These are highly accomplished musos with something very interesting and original to offer audiences. They are distinct, different and as we know, dishy. Their sound isn’t clearly derivative of any one genre or style – it’s a good sound, a great sound. Their set was consistently excellent despite problems I’m told with Club Cixi’s foldback and the musos not being able to hear what they played clearly. With a cheeky UK showman fronting, quite complex rhythms coming from the drums and a very versatile bass player (ex-Shotgun SheRas), you’d want to hunt this band down anywhere in Hong Kong for their next performance. Can’t wait for their CD release expected around June.
Chris B summed up the audience reaction at the end of their set, ‘You guys sound like you’re having an orgasm!’ (Now I know why I needed that second pair of underpants.) Some tall, friendly, nosy guy appeared out of the crowd to ask me very pointedly and busting with pride, ‘Who’s left to compete with the David Bowie Knives? Well, who?’ I dunno, matey. They left me with the same blown away feeling.
I hate it when a band like the David Bowie Knives stops playing. It’s a real feeling of sadness and deprivation – the feeling a junkie has coming down too quickly. Luckily we only have to wait a week for our next Underground fix.
Isobel S. Saunders
Live Review from Underground 45:
bringing pockets of noise into symmetry, their deep rumbling and gravelly texture massages the soul rather nicely. the style is fairly hard rock with a full melodic foundation in a musical hailstorm (except for the slow bits). a clear sense of leadership and confidence emanates, inviting you to explore their creations. their music is easy to zone out and get lost in, and comfortably so, as they know exactly where they’re going with it. the highly skilled yet relatively simple drumming makes it all even more entertaining and captivating. some songs have a fairly distinct 70s classic rock influence. neil young comes to mind. fan excitement was extremely evident, they are an excellent specimen of their particular style.
Live Review from Underground 37:
There’s no let up with this band. Between their songs they harangued the crowd and they’ve got a strange dialogue with the audience. The lead singer’s got a distinct accent throughout his singing somewhat reminiscent of a Shaun Ryder drawl from the Happy Mondays. They’ve even got a Manchester sound. Think of their music as a rougher, heavier Oasis.
Chris in Hong Kong