Billy Idol in Vicar Street, Dublin, 7th November 2014
A few songs into his recent set in Vicar Street, Billy Idol paused for to slide out of his leather jacket, tossing sly glances at the audience as the music fell silent for a moment.
The sheer theatricality of Idol’s performance was there in his every revved-up movement. After allowing just enough time for the audience’s anticipation to develop to suitable levels, Idol launched into the unashamedly cheese-pop rush of Dancing With Myself.
Each time he landed on the chorus of “If I had the chance/ I’d ask the world to dance,” he substituted “Dublin” for “World”, which coincided perfectly with a flash of the houselights and a roar of the crowd. It was perfectly staged, as choreographed as a dance routine, yet felt like the totally spontaneous product of the atmosphere Idol had conjured up.
Idol leapt manically about the stage as he sang, looking more enthusiastic than a new-born puppy. It was the kind of master class in pop-style showboating for a crowd that the audience of leather-clad rockers see all too seldom. Unless they make surreptitious sojourns to see Kylie Minogue when she’s in town, that is.
With a new album and an autobiography released this year, a tour was more or less obligatory, but somehow Idol managed to make the seem like anything but a no-brainer, fan-pleasing, greatest hits run-through.
Occupying a middle ground between the raw excess of punk, and the glamorous, polished excess of pop, Idol delivered a show that was at once rough and hard-rocking, while also delightfully (and knowingly) silly to the point of ridiculous.
There were a variety of costume changes, but, in a kind of punk indifference, they are done with no more ceremony than swapping a guitar for an instrument in a different tuning. Underlying all of Idol’s pulse-rousing antics was the solid professionalism of a solid rock band. Long time collaborator Steve Stevens led the way on lead guitar, tearing through a sizzling selection of riffs and licks with a cigarette hanging from his lips, Slash style.
When Stevens and Idol emerged alone for the final in a series of encores, Stevens showcased his effortless command of his instrument, plucking out the opening notes of White Wedding on an electric-acoustic guitar, his fingers sweeping across the instrument to replicate the absent full band.
It would almost have worked for the full song to have remained acoustic, were it not for the fact that the moment the full band come crashing in on the second verse was an enormous pay-off to a build-up that we’d scarcely noticed was even accruing.
Idol gave it everything he had for his signature number, showboating constantly, but never missing a note. You could say that a show-stopping night like this was proof that Idol has stood the test of time, but in reality the opposite is true. Idol hasn’t brought his music into the 21st century; instead he transports his audience back to the ‘80s for a couple of sweaty, un-self-consciously ridiculous, fist-pumping, power-rocking hours.
Perhaps it’s the Benjamin Button effect Idol has going on, looking significantly younger than his 58 years – even when he had to consult a lyric sheet on new album track Whiskey and Pills, it melded seamlessly into the performance.
It’s not that Billy Idol has managed to achieved any kind of contemporary resonance. It’s just that he’s never grown up, and he has to ability to make the songs feel like they’re just as eternally fresh and youthful as he appears to be.