Billy Idol review – old-school rock’n’roller transcends nostalgic fun
William Broad was a bespectacled Bromley schoolboy teachers dubbed “Billy Idle” before punk and contact lenses triggered his transformation. He became a Top of the Pops regular with Generation X and then an MTV-era global superstar. Now 66, he remains as indefatigable as ever, yelling “Manchester, England: let’s dance!” four times within the opening number alone.
That song – Generation X’s Dancing With Myself, which he turned into a solo hit – sets the blueprint for what follows: crunching riffs, a relentlessly chugging rhythm section and choruses built to yell along with. Idol’s image – curled lip, leather jacket, upturned collar, dishwater-blond spiky hair – has barely changed in decades but doesn’t need to when he has such lashings of old-school rock’n’roll charisma. His 80s hits such as Cradle of Love will probably be on a radio somewhere forever, but his two-hour show (ably supported by punk-era veterans Killing Joke and Toyah) isn’t just about nostalgic fun.
Related: Billy Idol: ‘I did what I wanted, with the weapons of rock’n’roll’
The pandemic has revived his muse. He introduces new song Cage by talking movingly about his mother’s death during the first lockdown and how the restrictions meant he couldn’t attend her funeral. Another new song, Bitter Taste, finds Idol reflecting on his terrible 1990 motorcycle crash and he sings it in front of a video of himself walking away from some wreckage. In the candid piano ballad turned brash rocker Runnin’ from the Ghost, the former addict candidly addresses his fears of falling back into bad habits. They’re all excellent, vulnerable songs and their warm reception sets Idol on a roll.
He sings Eyes Without a Face beautifully, remembers playing “the Electric Circus, down the road” by way of introducing One Hundred Punks and has the crowd yelling “Maw! Maw! Maw!” during Rebel Yell. He teases them with mention of “one more song we’ve forgotten to do”. Longtime guitarist Steve Stevens leads into an inevitable, triumphant White Wedding, and it’s hard not to grin at the way the singer exits after introducing the band and then himself: “Billy fuckin’ Idol, yeah!”
• At Cardiff International Arena, 17 October. Then touring.