“American Billy Idol”
written by Jason Reed
March 13, 2017
Although he was born in Middlesex, England, as a child I always thought of Billy Idol as an American, like Bruce Springsteen or Elvis. In fact, I’ve always imagined Billy Idol as a natural successor of Mr. Presley. All of the necessary ingredients are there: trademark sneer and raised lip, attitude, sex appeal and swagger. Billy is of that rare breed of musicians who was able to successfully transition from his raw punk days with Generation X into full-blown pop stardom within just a few years. Aside from Pete Shelley and a handful of others, few artists of that era managed that transition in a way that maintained their artistic integrity and street cred.
His upcoming 15 night “Forever” residency in Las Vegas is one testament to the staying power of this performer and another indication of his Elvis-like proclivities and rabid fandom. In terms of capitalist theory, the demand is great and, thankfully for us consumers, the supply of Billy’s mojo is significant and steady. Ready steady go.
One of my first albums (well, technically it was a cassette) was “Rebel Yell.” It was (and still is) one of my favorite albums of all time. And unlike some other 80’s albums I loved back then, it has aged like a fine wine where others (sorry Thompson Twins!) have soured a bit. As a ten year old boy, Billy was MY idol, someone who represented the power of masculinity, coolness, and the exuberance of youthful abandon and edginess.
As such, I was excited to finally see the man, the myth, the legend, up close and personal from the front row of the new House Of Blues venue that just opened at the Anaheim City Walk, having moved from its previous location in Downtown Disney (here’s a little spoiler: the venue has one of the coolest bathroom murals I’ve ever seen). The newness of the venue was a perfect metaphor for the tabla rasa, new experience awaiting me. I’m happy to report that my 10 year old inner child was ecstatic at what I beheld in front of my wide eyes this evening.
Billy commanded the stage like someone half his age, exuding energy, sweat and charm in equal measure. He interacted with the crowd and pranced around on stage to adoring fans (especially his more vocal female admirers). Original guitarist Steve Stevens was stellar, providing a nice balance to Billy and looking a little bit like a rocker version of Johnny Marr (that is one of the highest possible compliments coming from this author, by the way). In fact, Steve’s guitar skills were a highlight of the night. As a kid I always wondered how he made his guitar sound like it was shooting laser beams. Tonight I witnessed his technical prowess firsthand. It’s so awesome that Steve Stevens is still playing with Billy, as Steve’s guitar sound was such an iconic part of Billy Idol’s studio releases in the 1980’s. This was magical stuff indeed.
Highlight’s of the show included “King Rocker” from his early Generation X punk repertoire. The audience was also graced with mesmerizing classics like “White Wedding”, “Flesh For Fantasy” and the anthemic “Rebel Yell.” As mentioned above, Steve Stevens was amazing. He played a couple extended intros to the songs as well as a full guitar solo medley (blending elements of Led Zeppelin and other classic rock tunes) into an impressive musical interlude that must have lasted close to ten minutes if memory serves me correctly. I’m also happy to report that the band performed “Eyes Without A Face” (probably my favorite Billy track of all time). That song always sent shivers down my spine and even amplified its potency through the years when I learned that it was based on the 1960 French horror expressionist movie entitled “Les Yeux Sans Visage” about a young woman disfigured in an accident. When interviewing David Schelzel from the classic college rock band Ocean Blue last year (see link here) David also talked about the beauty of that song as well.
The full set list from the night was as follows:
- Shock to the System
- Dancing With Myself
- Daytime Drama
- Can’t Break Me Down
- Prodigal Blues
- Eyes Without a Face
- Guitar Solo Medley by Steve Stevens
- Don’t Need a Gun
- King Rocker (Generation X song)
- Blue Highway
- Rebel Yell
- White Wedding
- Drum Solo
If you’re a”Billy Idol virgin” I’d recommend that you don’t hesitate to see this legend live during one of his many upcoming shows (especially if you live in Las Vegas where you have ample opportunity). If you’re hedging, don’t be silly: you gotta see Billy.
For more information on Billy Idol’s projects and tour information, check out: www.billyidol.net