St. Louis band Karate Bikini has the enviable role of taking on David Bowie at An Under Cover Weekend. The only thing the band needed: a Bowie.
The annual event, now in its ninth year, features St. Louis bands each paying tribute to a national act.
The band looked outside of its own ranks for someone to fill the role of Bowie for its Friday night set, landing on Brian McClelland, of St. Louis band Whoa Thunder.
“I wanted someone who could just come up and just sing, and Brian’s a great singer,” says Tim McAvin, bassist for Karate Bikini. “If Brian couldn’t do it, we weren’t going to do it. We wanted someone to really nail this.”
McAvin had never seen McClelland sing Bowie before, though.
McAvin says his band (which also added keyboardist and synthesizer player Kyle Work of BLASTAR for the Under Cover Weekend show) decided to pay tribute to the iconic rocker because of similarities he hears between Karate Bikini and Bowie.
“We have a unique kind of band with a chamber pop quality to what we do, and early Bowie material like ‘Space Oddity’ sort of has that,” McAvin says. “But we also play glam and hard rock, which Bowie also has. Bowie also has soul, and we have a wink of that. People don’t know how to take us. This fits us really well.”
The Under Cover Weekend set will be heavy on showmanship, though McAvin and McClelland prefer to leave details about costumes as a surprise.
Song selection will be key and definitely will include “Let’s Dance,” which will be the “newest” song in the set. McAvin says preparing the song hasn’t been difficult.
“When you look at the individual parts of the instruments, none of it is supercomplicated,” he says. “We’re just playing it true to what happened on the album.”
McClelland says he wasn’t expecting to take on the role of Bowie.
“(McAvin) asked me, and I thought I was going to play bass,” says McClelland. “I’ve never done Bowie. I’m a fan, but I’ve never even done karaoke Bowie.”
McClelland adds that the group gelled quickly on the songs. “We added textures and colors as we figure out what we can do to make the songs shine a little bit more.”
Karate Bikini formed in 2008, and the six-piece band includes guitarist John Horton of the Bottle Rockets. “We’re pop music, really, but we also have elements of glam rock and psychedelic rock,” McAvin says.
The band has three albums, including its most recent, “A Simpler Sugar.” Its debut was “Sauce of the Apple Horse” in 2012. This is his band’s first time doing An Under Cover Weekend, though the band has done tributes to others, including Guided By Voices, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan.
Whoa Thunder has mostly been a studio project since 2008 and has only recently been a live outfit.
“I started out recording in my kitchen,” says McClelland, who was previously in the St. Louis bands Middle Class Fashion and Tight Pants Syndrome. “We’ve been a live band the last year, and we’ve settled into a lineup a couple of months ago.”
Whoa Thunder’s “You’re Under Attack” was released in 2014.
What An Under Cover Weekend • When 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday • Where The Firebird, 2706 Olive Street • How much $10 nightly; three-day passes available • More info undercoverweekend.com
AN UNDER COVER WEEKEND
Various Hands as The Who
Karate Bikini with Brian McClelland as David Bowie
Search Parties as Wilco
The Lonely Mountain String Band as Led Zeppelin
The Langaleers as Creedence Clearwater Revival
Blackwater ’64 as Lynyrd Skynyrd
Bo & The Locomotive as Lou Reed
Rusty Nail as Black Sabbath
Aquitaine as Blur
The Resounding as Journey
The Hush List as Failure
LifeWithout as Refused
The Potomac Accord as Fugazi
Early Worm as Jimmy Eat World
Giant Monsters on the Horizon as Depeche Mode