March 16, 2005
Everyone that came of age with MTV has a Billy Idol impression. Sneering, pumping fist, wanting "mo, mo, mo." Twelve years ago, Idol went techno and donned dreads when he released the his fifth album, "Cyberpunk."
Thankfully, Idol showed up at Stubb's Wednesday night for SXSW as he succeeded--sporting platinum, spiked hair, chains around his neck, a wife-beater undershirt, and a toned body. With a leathery, surgically altered face, Idol almost looked like a day hadn't passed since he released "White Wedding" or "Dancing With Myself." Most of the audience probably wanted Idol to transport them back to the mid '80's with his hits, anyway. I know I did.
Idol released four platinum albums from 1982-1990 because he was able to mix pop hooks, dance beats and punk swagger. Like Elvis before him, Idol was rock cool one second, and the next he was romantic cool. Idol pulled the same switch at the concert. Most of the songs he played from his new album, "Devil's Playground," were hard-rockers like "Super Overdrive" that were driven by the acrobatic solos of long-time guitarist Steve Stevens. But, he also fit in ballads like "Eyes Without A Face" and "Sweet Sixteen," during which he was able to slow things down, croon, and reach out to the girls without losing his hard credibility.
The skinny: Idol was good. His voice soared, and although he wasn't running around the stage, he gestured throughout the song to convey passion. He was a true performer--one of those guys that would find some way to perform with mono or after a loved one died.
In between decent new songs that probably sound crappier on record without his performance, Idol gave the crowd the hits they wanted--"White Wedding," "Flesh For Fantasy," "Dancing With Myself"--and they loved him back. The audience was singing along with the lyrics to "Wedding" and "Dancing."
The only problem with the concert was that Stevens was given a seven minute or more flamenco guitar solo--I guess so Idol could take a break. In the context of the song, a little guitar masturbation was fine, but without Idol it was boring.
Though Idol will always be looked down upon because he came up during the excessive '80's, like Duran Duran he still draws a crowd because he wrote time-engraved but enduring pop songs.