Words by Aidrian Peel
Photos by Diego Zuñiga
After support from Toyah and Killing Joke (the former I missed and the latter I wasn’t too impressed by, despite two or three good tracks), the stage was set for the return of London-born rock icon Billy Idol, who first made his name as a frontman in the 70s with the punk rock band Generation X.
A raised platform with steps down to the stage stood in front of a large screen, on which the word ‘IDOL’ suddenly appeared in large letters (shortly to be joined by the word ‘Billy’ over the top in smaller letters), as the five members of Billy’s band, including long-time collaborator Steve Stevens, launched into the opening number Dancing with Myself.
The larger-than-life rock rebel came out from the side onto the platform to cheering and wild applause, dressed head to toe in his trademark black leather. “London, England, come on!” he said a few times, setting the high-energy tone for the evening.
He announced that it was “lovely to be here in London, England“, and told the audience to expect “Idol classics and some new stuff”, adding: “Let’s see where we’re gonna go.” Adding to the highly-charged rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere, the screen displayed various cityscapes that looked like they had been lifted directly from the pages of a graphic neo-noir novel.
More cheers greeted Billy’s removal of his jacket with his back to the audience, followed by the removal of his T-shirt, and then the putting back on of his jacket ahead of the punchy Flesh for Fantasy.
The British-American star spoke of the “rotten, stinkin’ pandemic” and revealed that it meant he sadly couldn’t attend his mother’s funeral. He mentioned, however, that it was “fuel for songs” and performed Cage, the anthemic title track of his latest EP which came out in September, while the video played in the background. The song is up there with Billy’s best.
Speed was introduced as “a song we did for a Keanu Reeves blockbuster” (I had forgotten that Billy had been involved in the soundtrack to one of the best action films of the 90s), while the melodic and heartfelt Bitter Taste was about the serious motorcycle accident he suffered in 1990 and how it affected him.
Throughout the evening, the 66-year-old, who looks great for his age, it has to be said, seemed to struggle a bit on some of the higher notes (it didn’t really matter as this seasoned showman has enough charisma to carry him through), although his vocals on the gorgeous Eyes Without a Face were outstanding – note perfect and packing a real emotional punch.
Steve Stevens was given the chance to show what he can do on the guitar, particularly impressing with his soaring rendition of the Top Gun Anthem, a Grammy-winning rock instrumental used to great effect in both Top Gun films, from 1986 and 2022, and which Steve originally recorded for the first movie’s soundtrack back in 1985.
The crowd happily sang along to the timeless groove of Mony Mony and ahead of the soul-baring Running from the Ghost (another track off the Cage EP), Billy opened up about his drug addiction, concluding that it’s “worth being alive”.
Described as “my favourite number” and “easy to introduce”, Rebel Yell – probably Billy Idol‘s best-known song – was met with the expected degree of enthusiasm that such a classic rock tune warrants. Billy invited the audience to sing the “more more more!” refrain and sing it we did!
The encore consisted of Rebel Like You (another new song), a cover of Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers‘ Born to Lose and another bona-fide rock classic, White Wedding. The latter, which the singer dedicated to his sister who was somewhere in the audience, also had the fans singing in full volume on parts of the chorus.
“Thank you for giving me a great f****n’ life!” said the grateful entertainer to the crowd. He then turned to Steve Stevens and said the same thing to him. You’re welcome, Billy. Thank you for the music, and long may you continue.