More, more, more! Billy Idol – punk superstar, grandfather – rocks his fans at Wembley
This Wembley Arena show was something of a homecoming for Billy Idol, who was born five miles north in Stanmore. At the age of 66, it’s no wonder that Idol – punk superstar, grandfather – has lost some of the primal power that fuelled hard-rocking 1980s hits such as Rebel Yell and White Wedding. But once a punk always a punk, and there was enough attitude on stage to have the Idol faithful punching the air of this almost-full concert hall.
Idol looked just as he always did: spiky peroxide blonde hair, tight black trousers, black leather jacket. His snarly croon was slightly more sandpapered than usual but a healthy sense of bombast remained.
His five-piece backing band included virtuoso guitarist Steve Stevens; with his vast black barnet, open shirt and leather trousers, he looked like he’d been teleported to north London directly from the stage of the famed Los Angeles nightclub Whisky a Go Go around 1988. Behind the band, a huge backdrop displayed a series of industrial cityscapes with towering neon “Billy Idol” signs. There was no room for subtlety here.
Born William Broad in 1955, Idol has had a genre-straddling career. He co-founded British punk band Generation X in 1976 but moved to the US in 1981 where his sound became progressively more commercial, flirting with the MTV-friendly heavy metal sound of the Sunset Strip. Idol’s support acts at Wembley, Toyah Wilcox and Killing Joke, were clearly picked to demonstrate his roots in the UK punk and post-punk scene. His opening track, Generation X’s propulsive 1980 single Dancing with Myself, harked back to this era.
It was fantastic. By the second song, Cradle of Love, we’d crossed the Atlantic and were in the full-on fist pumpin’, Harley ridin’ rock territory that became Idol’s mainstay (“Rock the cradle of love/ Yeah, yeah, yeah/ Shake it, baby!”). This carried on through his cover of Tommy James and Shondells’ Mony Mony and songs such as Blue Highway.
Idol’s ballad Eyes Without a Face must rank alongside David Bowie’s Absolute Beginners as one of the 80s’ finest. And its earworm melody and female-sung refrain of “Les yeux sans visage” lost none of their haunting beauty at Wembley. The song has become a hipster favourite in recent years, with covers by Angel Olsen and LA chillwave band Poolside. It’s deserved.
The star of the show was actually Stevens (sorry Billy). He’s the man who provided the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana and also played that Harold Faltermeyer-penned Top Gun anthem, surely one of the most famous soft rock solos of all time. Barely a second passed without him wringing noise from his guitar. His use and understanding of harmonics was second-to-none. Stevens gave us a burst of Top Gun last night. We also got a memorable flamenco solo as dry ice swirled around the metal maestro. Spinal Tapas, if you will.
The gig suffered only because music like this demands high-octane, no compromise delivery – it’s the aural equivalent of a shot of tequila – and there wasn’t quite enough sustained energy. Given that Idol is in his seventh decade, it’s understandable, and Wembley’s occasionally soupy sound didn’t help matters. But when that punk energy did burst through the room, it was thrilling. Rebel Yell and White Wedding – the latter written for Idol’s sister Jane, who was there – left fans shouting for “more, more, more!”.
Until October 25. Tickets: billyidol.net