Live: Back Door Slam at the Bowery Ballroom


Back Door Slam
July 15, 2008
Bowery Ballroom

Davy Knowles—the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter at the heart of the UK-based blues trio Back Door Slam—is very likely getting more ass than you. At the band’s Bowery Ballroom debut last night, most of the females (and a sizeable chunk of the males) in the audience were swooning over Knowles’ killer guitar work and spot-on, straight-ahead wail. Actually, swooning might not be very accurate. More like jumping up and down and screaming their faces off. Regardless, they had the right idea. When I caught the last half of their show at Bonnaroo last month, Back Door Slam was impressive, and they’ve only gotten better with age.

The group opened with “Heavy on my Mind,” a standout rocker from their 2007 debut album, Roll Away. After they’d torn through a few verses and a chorus, Knowles stepped back from the mic and dug into his blue Strat, dropping bomb after arpeggiated bomb onto the stage and into the screaming crowd. This is rock-and-roll, unabashedly influenced by Hendrix, Clay and the all the rest. And the most impressive part of the whole thing? Davy Knowles is only 20 years old.

As the story goes, when he was 11, Knowles was riding in the car with his parents on the Isle of Man, where he was born and grew up, when the Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” came on the radio. When he got home, he borrowed his dad’s acoustic guitar and his life was forever changed. The rest, as they say, etc, etc.

After the opening number, the group broke into a beefed-up version of CSNY’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” followed by “Come Home,” the first single from Roll Away. Throughout the show, the band seemed genuinely surprised that they could fill a club in New York on a Tuesday night, which was strangely endearing considering how great they sound.

The band’s youth—drummer, Ross Doyle, is 20 and the bassist, Adam Jones, is 19—did occasionally seep into their stage persona, though never during songs. For example, after turning most of the audience to mush with his towering riffs, Knowles would often step up to the mic and say, in a sing-songy British accent, “Thank you very much, indeed! Cheers!” before breaking into a wide grin. This is not what I expect from my rock stars, most of whom follow the Jack White model, which consists of being as aloof as possible at all times.

The band also covered Rory Gallagher’s (“He’s sort of my hero,” said Knowles), “What in the World,” and Robert Cray’s “Back Door Slam,” (which is where the band pilfered its name, of course), inserting gigantic guitar solos into both tunes. Blues is admittedly not a popular genre with the kids these days, but if Back Door Slam keeps playing like this, they’ve got a serious career ahead of them, and Davy Knowles a lot more ass.