Having already been postponed twice and with a couple of line up changes along the way Billy Idol’s Roadside Tour is finally upon us in the UK with a tantalising triple bill.
If you could single out artists where lockdown has favoured their careers then Toyah must surely be somewhere at the top of the list. Her Sunday lockdown videos with husband Robert Fripp were a welcome source of entertainment for many and as they became more and more absurd, so did their popularity. Her back catalogue has also seen a revamp with 1981’s Anthem being the most recent to receive the super deluxe treatment.
It’s probably no surprise that given the short half hour opening slot that much of her set covers the Anthem album with ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ being the opening number. This and the following cover of ‘Echo Beach’ both go down well with the crowd who seem to have turned up in time for her early set. New song ‘Space Dance’, written with husband Fripp, who is also here tonight watching from the sidelines, is given an airing before the set closes with her punk pop signature tune ‘I Want To Be Free.
After Television had to pull out, Killing Joke are a late addition, but their cross genre appeal makes it an inspired choice. Formed at the tail end of punk they drew fans from not only that genre but their heavy approach also helped inspire countless industrial rock bands. Granted their sonic barrage won’t appeal to everyone, but there were plenty of fans, and t-shirts, amongst the audience suggesting that their late addition has also prompted some last minute ticket sales. Jaz Coleman remains a captivating frontman as he slowly prowls the judiciously lit stage like a maniac delivering bleak lyrics to a relentless bludgeoning from the rhythm section of Youth & Paul Ferguson.
With the original line up having reconvened since the late 2000’s, it’s perhaps surprising that the focus is predominantly on their earlier albums and the opening salvo of ‘Unspeakable’ and ‘Wardance’ set the scene. The hypnotic drumming and keys certainly provide, as they say, music to dance to, music to march to, which helps explain just one of the aspects of their continued appeal and longevity.
The last couple of tours saw Billy Idol pack out Academy sized venues, so a return to arenas post Covid was always going to be a big draw with a bigger production for the fans, but also wholly justifiable on the back of the recent release of two superb EPs of new material that proves Billy Idol is still more than capable of delivering the goods in his fifth decade of making music.
In direct contrast to the previous 40 minutes, the stage is clearly set for an extravagant show. A giant screen forms the entire backdrop from the lighting rig to the stage. A raised platform, itself bedecked with further lights, and steps either side of the drum kit lead onto the stage. The screen displays a huge Billy Idol billboard sign seemingly putting the band on top a New York building for the opening number; ‘Dancing With Myself’ which Idol sings mostly from the platform before descending to the stage and imploring the crowd “Cardiff! Wales! Come on, dance!”, not that any encouragement was required, of course.
’90s classic ‘Cradle Of Love’ follows with driving guitars and a short bass solo from Stephen McGrath. The screen has now changed to the city downtown with Neon signs flickering for the backdrop to ‘Flesh For Fantasy’ which is dark, brooding and tastefully unhurried. By now Idol has lost his shirt which shows him to be in great shape for his age. The moves and the trademark snarling lip are still as evident as they ever were. More importantly, so is his voice which stands up remarkably well throughout.
There are plenty of new songs in the set. The first being new single ‘The Cage’ which he cites Covid and the death of his mother, whose funeral he was unable to attend, as the inspiration behind the song. Similarly he talks about his motorcycle crash 30 years ago as being the impetus behind the contemplative ‘Bitter Taste’ which lyrically must be up there with his best work.
A layer of dry ice covers the stage floor during which Steve Stevens plays an acoustic flamenco style solo section that includes a snippet of Zeppelin’s ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’. He is a remarkable guitarist and its fair to say that Billy Idol wouldn’t be same without his partner in crime. ‘Mony Mony’ sends the crowd wild before following it up with the new ‘Runnin’ From The Ghost’ which thunders along with a galloping bassline in which Billy sings about overcoming his drug addictions.
There’s a trip back to Generation X with ‘One Hundred Punks’, and ‘Blue Highway’ features Stevens’ Top Gun theme which sees him playing the guitar behind his head before it gets to the point where, as Billy puts it, “I like to scream two words…. Rebel Yell!!” which sees the crowd punching their fists into the air while singing along which is a fitting way to conclude the main set of what has unquestionably been one of the finest rock gigs of the year.
The encore begins with another new one; ‘Rebel Like You’ which has a hint of Alice Cooper to it, but there’s only one way he’ll leave the venue alive. ‘What’s the song we haven’t played, Steve?’ he asks. Stevens obliges with the familiar muted run before hitting the main riff of ‘White Wedding’. It’s a glorious way to end the show with audience in full voice.
In a time when nostalgia is the big sell for many arena shows its refreshing when you see somebody like Billy Idol and his band who are all still at the very top of their game, effortlessly mixing the new with the old, and not just simply turning out the old hits, in a top notch show. The tour continues on Wednesday in London and hits Birmingham on Sunday.
1. Dancing With Myself
2. Cradle Of Love
3. Flesh For Fantasy
6. Bitter Taste
7. Eyes Without A Face
8. Steve Stevens Guitar Solo
9. Mony Mony
10. Runnin’ From The Ghost
11. One Hundred Punks
12. Blue Highway
13. Rebel Yell
14. Rebel Like You
15. Born To Lose
16. White Wedding