Live Review: Billy Idol - Resorts World Arena, Birmingham
23rd October 2022
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Damian John
In 2022, we must go to Billy Idol shows with a great degree of gratitude that we still have the opportunity to see the man himself, 40 years after the release of his debut solo album - which features the iconic Steve Stevens on guitar, the only other link to the original lineup who’s present today. At the start of the year, Billy’s battle with a sinus infection forced him to pull out of a US tour with Journey. So to see the 66-year-old still strutting around the stage, delivering rock anthem after rock anthem is a real pleasure.
With tonight being the one-month anniversary of the release of ‘The Cage’, his second EP in a year, you couldn’t accuse him of resting on his laurels and slowing down. Joined by Killing Joke and Toyah, tonight’s all-star lineup has attracted a healthy crowd, with very few empty seats left in the building. You only have to think about all the major rock and heavy metal bands, following in these artists’ footsteps, who’ve covered their songs or taken a direct influence from their work, if you had any doubt about being in the presence of legends.
After earlygoers enjoy an opening set from Toyah, Killing Joke launch into the iconic pounding, mysterious drum intro that brings in ‘Unspeakable’, creating an industrial atmosphere to the whole performance that doesn’t really go away from the first minute. Paul Ferguson’s drumwork is one of the most definitive and interesting things about Killing Joke - with the tribal tom-heavy patterns and the consistent beating pulse that he brings, his unconventional beats are hypnotic but with a distinct heaviness that kicks you in the face. The energetic ‘Eighties’ is a highlight of the set, and there’s a fantastic stomping groove to ‘Loose Cannon’, though with tonight’s crowd all in seats, the reaction feels somewhat polite, though still very much appreciative. Jaz Coleman does a great job at entertaining the crowd, with a fantastic vocal performance to hand, though it’s harder to gauge how many of the crowd are involved when invited to join in with their ‘Wardance’, with so many sat still in their seats throughout the whole set. But it doesn’t stop Killing Joke from leaving to rapturous applause and cheers after the vibey ‘Pandemonium’. One of the most influential bands in history and for good reason.
Billy Idol is a bit different in that regard, as he has the superstar as well as influential status. And as the lights drop and his name flashes on the big screen, those on the floor all get up out of their seats and drop a huge cheer as the band enter in a haze of smoke. Dropping straight away into ‘Dancing With Myself’, it’s a raucous rock n’ roll party from the word go. ‘Birmingham, England, come on!’, he shouts during the first song, ‘let’s f*cking dance!’, causing the whole floor, and indeed, most of those further back, to get moving and have fun. An exceptional, engaging frontman, he still dances with effortless charisma and style, not slowed down or tired out by his wealth of experience in the industry. He tells stories in a way that has the whole crowd clinging onto every word. Candidly talking about lockdown, drug addiction or his family - his Dad a fairly local Coventry boy and his grandma famous for her strong cups of tea - you feel like he’s talking to you personally, rather than an audience of thousands. And it’s all part of the magic. Throwing out frisbees and drumsticks for a lucky few to have physical souvenirs of the show, Billy Idol’s performance is the type to form lasting memories and impressions on everyone there.
The band’s new pandemic anthem ‘Cage’ goes down well. A joyful dance-rock anthem that we can all relate to, the cheers are enthusiastic if understandably thinner - but are proof that Idol hasn’t lost his vintage songwriting touch, with ‘Bitter Taste’ from last year’s ‘The Roadside’ allowing the set to breathe with its lighters-in-the-air, power ballad feel. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘One Hundred Punks’ from Idol’s Generation X days goes down like a storm, with some old-schoolers in the building making some serious noise for it. The band sound huge tonight, at times even employing three guitars at once, but Steve Stevens is clearly the main attraction in the band. With awe-inspiring shredding, soloing and stage presence, he doesn’t steal the limelight from the band’s namesake but confidently holds his own at the front for most of the set, bar a flamenco guitar solo midway through the set. Stevens really lets loose with impressive arpeggios, harmonics and a full arsenal of guitar techniques, in jaw-dropping fashion. He’s a guitar god - and one who seems to go under the radar a bit, at that. Not that tonight’s performance would have you think it.
Towards the end of the set, they turn up the sense of fun yet another notch. The room simply erupts as ‘Rebel Yell’ kicks in, one of the biggest singalongs of the whole evening. By now, there’s only one song that everyone’s still waiting for the band to play, but Billy keeps the crowd in suspense for just a little longer, with new song ‘Rebel Like You’, dedicated to his granddaughter, and a cover of The Heartbreakers’ ‘Born To Lose’ making up the start of the encore. ‘Do you wanna go home?’, he taunts the crowd, before Steve Stevens teases the intro to the mega-anthemic ‘White Wedding’. The crowd go wild for one last time. With everyone clapping, dancing and singing along, Billy is as much a conductor as he is a frontman, each attendee waiting for his next command. Overall, it’s an incredibly self-assured and confident performance from the whole band, who don’t put a note out of place, introduced by name as they take the final curtain by the one and only Billy Idol, a true master and icon of his craft. Nothing short of wonderful.