The evening starts with a surprise, and not an altogether pleasant one. Instead of getting our Billy on time, an unannounced opening act appears, looking and sounding nothing more than like Deep Purple in the deep south. The are called Rock Paper Scissors and no one has heard of them. Indeed, it soon transpires this is their first gig and they are so obviously enthusiastic one cannot help but be swept along. A bit.
Still, it seems strange to open a Billy Idol show with a prog rock throwback. Billy was there when punk was born, being a hanger-on at the first Sex Pistols shows. But he took to MTV with a vengeance and his punk credentials have always been thrown into question. Perhaps his goal here is to blow prog away, just like the Pistols did in the late ‘70s?
The last time anyone heard from Billy Idol was in 1993, when he tried to attach himself to another new wave, making an album called Cyberpunk and doing a video looking like the Terminator. It is this track, “Shock to the System,” which opens the show. Not at all bad, but still a surprising choice. By the end of it, Billy is changing clothes, electing to do this in full view rather than backstage. We get to see the chest, which is still mildly impressive, but at 62 he is hardly going to take his top off.
But it’s the man’s face that commands the most attention. Chock-full of botox or whatever that is, he can hardly manage a sneer, begging the question, is this what Elvis might have looked like in 1997? Then again, the King would probably have had a less impressive chest at that point in time.
If Idol looks a little like an aging porn star trying to stay in the game, then Steve Stevens appears more like what in the ‘80s might have been called a transvestite, exploding on all sides out of his tight leather one piece with his hair way in the air, more Divine than Dirty Diana. Perhaps the one who best dons the jaded rock star look is rhythm guitarist Billy Morrison, obviously enjoying being in a band people are coming to see.
Seeing Guns’n’Roses was a little like attending a symphony concert and the people were drunk but peaceful. Here, the vibe is a little different. Just before the show starts, a large woman with a beer in each hand squeezes in front of me. When Billy takes the stage, she starts to sway back and forth like a wrecking ball, randomly headbutting backwards the people in the row behind her. By the sixth song, the security are giving menacing looks to the audience. Five yellow-vests rush out to grab a punter but fail to lift him up. Whether this is due to the man’s heft or resistance is impossible to say. When they finally carry him away, his place is immediately taken by a couple of guys who look like thugs from an early 80s film, mohawks and chains and all. I decline to try to Stallone them, and in any case they are only enjoying the music.
This is in fact peaking with “Cradle of Love,” the last Billy song truly of note and a fine rocker, the performance only slightly marred by shenanigans in front of the stage. Then they quiet down with “Eyes Without a Face,” one of the more gorgeous of Billy tunes. The show is coming into its own, but rather than continue down this path, we are treated to the bizarre guitar stylings of Steve Stevens. The man’s talent, unlike his dress sense, is hardly in doubt. Like that other sometime Michael Jackson sideman Slash who was here last week, he treats us to a classic film score, Top Gun instead of Godfather, but actually penned by himself. Then, there is some flamenco guitar, strangely. Who does he think he is? Leonard Cohen? Finally, he starts on “Stairway to Heaven,” before shaking his head amusingly and breaking it off rather than going full Wayne’s World.
Apparently, Idol and Stevens have made a couple of albums together this century and take the opportunity to remind us of this with a couple of songs. Sadly for everyone, it’s the old stuff we have come to hear. And this is finally delivered with a rousing “Rebel Yell,” and what is that – OMG, he’s taking his shirt off! Billy is taking his shirt off! And getting away with it, too!
This calls for an encore, of course, and there is only one option. “White Wedding” is Billy’s best shot at pop immortality, even the kids know this one, and he milks it for all it’s worth. “Show them how to write a hit song,” Billy says to Steve, who proceeds to play it on acoustic. The band inevitably re-enters halfway through, and they might well have started from the beginning again, so eager are we to hear this, but instead they just bring it home.
An unnecessary drum solo follow, unless you are into that sort of thing, but there is to be no “Hot in the City.” Even if it is one of the warmest days of year, and I was so ready to hear him shout “Reykjavik” in place of “New York.” Oh well, we get “Mony Mony,” as much of a showstopper as there is to be found the Idol oeuvre, and it gets the job done.
So what is there more to be said? Billy Idol sure looks like a rock star. Billy Idol acts like a rock star. He even is a rock star. Nevertheless, one always has a vague notion of him being someone playing at being a rock star. Perhaps his career was simply blown away when Appetite for Destruction emerged, played by people who seemed to take everything more seriously, the last time anyone took to the role of rock star in earnest.
And so it was this summer. Still, Billy Idol in Laugardalshöllin may well have been the second-best night of this rain-drenched disaster that passes for summer around here. The police reported an eventful night, unlike the calm post-GnR. Perhaps Billy Idol is more punk than we give him credit for after all?