Review by David Waterfield, photos by Mark Lloyd
It’s a Wednesday night in the heart of Birmingham and the 02 Academy is packed. It’s the opening night of Billy Idol’s European Tour. A quick glance around the crowd reveals an eclectic mix of punks, Goths, rockers, metal heads and fifty-somethings through to teenagers, all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the charismatic rock icon. The lights dim. There are cheers and more than a few screams…
Billy Idol bounds into the spotlight at the edge of the stage; the crowd roar and hundreds of phones are held aloft trying to capture the moment. For a man celebrating his 59th birthday later this month – and no, I couldn’t believe that either – he looks in remarkable shape and his energy levels do not flag all night.
Tracks off the new album Kings And Queens Of The Underground come across well; indeed ‘Can’t Break Me Down’ with its rabble rousing chorus arguably works better in a live environment, but it’s the classic material where the show really takes off. ‘Dancing With Myself’ sees Idol prowling the stage, punching the air as he shouts “If I had the chance I’d ask Birmingham to dance!” while his partner in crime Steve Stevens marries technical ability to guitar hero pyrotechnics, playing the solo behind his head and thrashing the chords in arm wheeling Pete Townshend style.
‘Flesh For Fantasy’ is another highlight of the evening and there are appreciative shrieks from the audience as Billy stands by the drum riser and strips to his waist at the start of the song. Idol and Stevens switch to acoustic guitars for ‘Sweet Sixteen’, a sensitive and strangely romantic song which, despite Billy’s funny and implausible sounding introduction about a Latvian guy named Ed is actually a true story. Edward Leedskalnin – check it out!
Billy reaches into his Generation X past to pull out ‘Love Like Fire’ and ‘King Rocker’ – still a thrilling piece of music after all these years – before an ebullient ‘Rebel Yell’ brings the set to a rousing, air-punching finale. Stevens and Idol return for an acoustic encore of ‘White Wedding’ before being joined on stage by the full band and Tommy James and the Shondells ‘Mony Mony’ ends the evening on a high.
It all made for an excellent gig. Billy Idol is smart and self-aware enough to have fun with the larger than life persona he has created while his back catalogue of enduring hit singles testifies that he is a better songwriter than he often receives credit for.
As the show ends and the house lights come up Billy Idol thanks his band members one by one and the Birmingham audience “For making my life so fucking great!” Right back at ya Billy – we’ve missed you.
1. Postcards From The Past
2. Cradle Of Love
3. Can’t Break Me Down
4. Dancing With Myself
5. Flesh For Fantasy
6. Save Me Now
7. Sweet Sixteen
8. Kings and Queens of the Underground
9. Eyes Without a Face
10. L.A. Woman
11. Steve Stevens Guitar Solo
12. King Rocker
13. Love Like Fire
14. Whiskey & Pills
15. Blue Highway
16. Rebel Yell
17. White Wedding
18. Mony Mony