Billy Idol
 
John Robb rocks down to the Manchester Apollo for a white wedding

It should be game up for Billy Idol.

But here he is tearing a packed Apollo apart with an incredible two-hour set.

 

Non stop hits and some really dynamic new tunes signpost a thirty-year career. Three decades of rampant rocking action that started in the punk days with Generation X and then in the eighties saw Idol become one of the biggest selling acts in the world when his photogenic, punk Elvis, peroxide, sneer rode the crest of the MTV wave.

Idol was there for punk. He was in the legendary Bromley contingent- the suburban freak show of Siouxsie and others who were the Pistols first fans. Before punk even had a name he had formed his first punk band, Chelsea, in 1976. They played their first gig in Manchester that autumn and then threw out their singer when they returned to London and became Generation X.

Their good looks and unashamedly pop attitude saw them scorned by the hippies running the music press. But they sold records - their songs were anthems, great stomping glam punk anthems and anyone who really knew their punk rock treasures them to this day -‘Youth Youth Youth’, ‘Ready Steady Go’ and of course ‘King Rocker’- some of the greatest songs written in that exuberant period.

When Billy broke big Stateside the critics hated him even more for it but he was only living up to his name. William Broad was never going to become a superstar but renaming himself Billy Idol meant he was going to have to walk it like he talked.

In the new Millennium Billy Idol is a misfit. The taste making dullards have little time for him - he’s far too good looking for the funny looking men who write rock history and like to see it dominated by other funny looking men. In the last few years, though, Idol has just kept turning up and playing shows like this one tonight and blowing people away.

He did it last year at the festivals and he’s doing it this year at the Apollo. Now 51 he looks good for his age. He let go of the druggy drugs in the nick of time - perhaps nearly killing himself on the crazy chemicals was one final warning he couldn’t avoid.

His singing voice is more than intact - he manages to swoon the ballads and snarl out the rockers with a real power. His foil is still Steve Stevens, the skinny dude who looks oddly like an LA version of Johnny Marr, with booming bouffant black hair and every guitar rock god pose in the book.

Stevens revels in it - showmanship is the key tonight - every rock cliché is dusted down and celebrated. At one point Stevens plays a preposterously brilliant ten minute solo guitar workout complete with dry ice, a mind gobbling array of neo flamenco guitar chops and some moody chords. I didn’t even know people did stuff like this anymore. And then Idol bounds back on stage and they tear into a spotless version of ‘Ready Steady Go’.

There is no morose embarrassment or poncey attempts to look cool. This is full on total showman fun, rock’n’roll played like a theatre show and that’s why it works.

Billy still clenches his fist for ‘White Wedding’, he still does that lip-twitching sneer for the big moody ‘Eyes Without A Face’. He changes his shirt for about the tenth time for ‘Sweet Sixteen’.

Idol ends the set with a definitive version of ‘Rebel Yell’ complete with Stevens playing the guitar solo with a plastic raygun. There is actually a standing ovation before they return for an extended ‘Mony Mony’.

An unashamed show off in a scene full of dullards - Billy Idol is old school and knows it. He is the last of the fifties styled rockers, the good looking kids who knew that rock’n’roll was a passport to fucking the world and he still lives that dream.

This was a fantastic show, a brilliant celebration of a form and an age-defying exercise in great showman rock’n’roll from an artist whose found his way again.

Now all he has to do is make a great record. Maybe it’s time to give career saving genius producer Rick Rubin a call.

 

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