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By Steve Newton
You’ve got to give Billy Idol credit. For a guy whose career peaked roughly three decades ago, he’s hanging in there incredibly well. There’s little flab on the 59-year-old’s tanned bod, and his vocal cords are in fine shape too. Judging by his recent album, Kings and Queens of the Underground, he hasn’t lost his knack for catchy tunes. And then there’s that Elvis-like sneer, which still suits his baby face, weathered though it is from all the years of hard living.
But a lot of what made Billy Idol so great at his Queen E. show last night (February 12) had more to do with the guy on his right, the raven-haired guitarist with the endless array of super-sparkly Les Pauls. Steve Stevens—who’s been Idol’s musical mainman, on and off, since 1981—is still the six-string fireball whose intense riffing puts the rebel in Idol’s yell.
Stevens had plenty of chances to steal the spotlight from his spiky-haired boss during the 18-song set, which opened with “Postcards from the Past”, a track from Kings and Queens that owes a lot to the surging vibe of Idol’s massive 1983 hit, “Rebel Yell”. After a rollicking rendition of the Doors’ “L.A. Woman”—which Idol had covered on his 1990 Charmed Life album—Stevens took an extended solo that was mainly a flamenco-style workout with tiny bits of Yes’s “Roundabout” and Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” thrown in. A few notes from “Stairway to Heaven” garnered the obligatory hoots and hollers.
Stevens wasn’t the only one making a serious guitar noise though, as rhythm player Billy Morrison—who cowrote several tracks on Idol’s latest disc—was solid throughout. And at certain points keyboardist Paul Trudeau left his post at the back of the stage to grab a Gibson and make it a whopping 18 strings-worth of heavily amped goodness. The rhythm section of bassist Stephen McGrath and drummer Erik Eldenius performed admirably as well.
The night wasn’t all frivolity and fun, however, as Idol took a moment to dedicate his pretty 1987 single “Sweet Sixteen” to his dear friend, ’80s new-wave icon Steve Strange, who just hours earlier had passed away in his sleep at the age of 55.
After that solemn respite it didn’t take long to get the party restarted, though. Despite losing his buddy, Idol appeared to be having the time of his life, whether churning out raucous new tracks (“Whiskey and Pills”) or old numbers from his late-’70s group Generation X (“King Rocker”). He gleefully spun a dozen or so frisbee-like discs into the crowd before signing an assertive fan’s copy of his new self-penned autobiography, Dancing With Myself.
For the encore Idol offered up his 1982 smash hit “White Wedding”—which threw the sold-out crowd into quite a tizzy—then topped things off with his well-known cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1968 garage-rock gem, “Mony Mony”.