Billy Idol is the devil. His physiognomy and peroxide horns scream fiend. Then there’s his Richter-worthy growls that mutate into splitting banshee screeches – a la post-bridge White Wedding. He’s not always an overt Satan, sometimes he prefers to play it low-key. He’ll seduce you with the occasional ballad. Then abuse you with glam-punk sting. Idol’s daemonic status was confirmed on Thursday night with a performance so energetic that Satanic perpetual youth can be the only explanation.
Idol played to a not-quite-full Qantas Credit Union Arena, his first show in Australia since his ill-fated 2002 NRL Grand Final foray. The audience had a confused composition – baby boomers, their children and once-upon-a-time wannabe rockstars sporting Van Halen tees and shaggy mullets.
It is at this point that I must declare my enduring love affair with Idol. The profundity of a piece of digital media in my life has always been proportional to the density and depth of scratches on that disc’s mirror side. My copy of Idol’s 1988 compilation 11 of the Best, passed down to me from my father, looks like it’s been attacked with an orbital sander by an overenthusiastic Year 7 tech student.
Idol is inherent to me. Dancing with Myself was the first (real) song I learnt all the words to. His demeanour works for me-badass with brains, rightly depicted in The Wedding Singer and reflected in his shunning of a ghostwriter for his recent autobiography. Not to attend Idol’s Sydney concert would have been akin to Newton micro-sleeping through the apple.
Idol raised hell. He jumped off pedestals and ran laps of the stage in leather pants. Idol is credited with the fusion of the punk and rock and roll genres and his voice has always accordingly displayed broad variation. At 60-odd, that variation shows no signs of leaving him. He variably sounded like Spandau Ballet, REM, and would occasionally showcase a kind of Jason Statham-like menacing narration. Sex, drugs and booze have treated Idol kindly – his striptease in Flesh for Fantasy revealed a rockstar that has plenty of stages yet to rock.
Idol may have raised hell but he only managed to do so with help from his lead guitarist, Steve Stevens, an accomplished session guitarist who has recorded with Michael Jackson amongst others. Stevens’ guitar is his sixth bodily appendage, such is his—as Idol puts it— “fan-fucking-tastic” mastery of the instrument. Stevens used teeth, cigarettes and a gyroscopic effects ring to lay down some truly supernatural sounds. The evening’s highlight was Stevens’ extended rendition of Eyes Without a Face, Idol’s vocals perfectly complementing Stevens’ technical wizardry. Idol’s 80s stalwarts were given the justice they deserved, keeping the crowd and your correspondent satisfied. My glam-punk soul can now rest easy.
All Alright was the best way to describe Idol’s better-than-your-usual support act, Cheap Trick. Trick’s lead singer Robin Zander still holds his own on vocals, showcased nicely in The Flame and Dream Police. The rest of the band, who donned their best soup-kitchen attire, failed to match Zander’s energy. A special mention must be extended to bassist Tom Petersson, who exhibited a 20-string guitar with five fretboards. He only played two, but whatever.
I feel like I have missed out. If that was Idol at 60, what must he have been like at 25? “Thank you Sydney, for making my life so fucking awesome!”, were some of Idol’s last words.