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Concert Review: A night with Billy Idol is nothing to sneer at

Monday, July 02, 2001

By John Young

"It's nice to be playing again," Billy Idol said during his concert at I.C. Light Amphitheatre on Friday night.

Nice?! Billy Idol?!

Admittedly, Idol always worked on the most commercial fringes of punk rock. Although he has long been a randy, self-aggrandizing showman, his shtick always carried a bit of an edge. Sure, it was punk without politics, but there was a vague danger in that famous Idol sneer.

No longer. The resurrected Billy Idol signed autographs for fans in the front rows. When called on to ad-lib, he discussed Pete Sampras' play at Wimbledon.

Idol even laughed at his own tunes, adding the line "This song is so cheesy" to "Cradle of Love" and sniffing his armpit before introducing "Rebel Yell" as "Rebel Smell."

Perhaps Idol just didn't know what to do to fill time. While Steve Stevens played fiery guitar licks galore, overall Idol's band sounded underrehearsed. There were many uncomfortable pauses, a false start to "Flesh for Fantasy" and a moment when Stevens had to remind Idol where they were in the set.

When Idol's best songs came in rapid succession, however, he sounded gutsy and fine. It helped that fans stood in their seats, pumping their fists and bellowing the lyrics to "Dancing With Myself," "Ready Steady Go" and an encore of "Mony, Mony."

Even the mid-set acoustic break offered rollicking fun. "White Wedding" sounded just fine as an Idol/Stevens duet. Idol claimed he was aiming for an R&B vibe with "To Be a Lover," but he ended up with a terrific shuffling, 1950s-style rocker instead.

Former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash opened the show playing darker, heavier rock. His Snakepit band garnered small pockets of vocal support, but it spoke volumes that a take on GNR's "Mr. Brownstone" drew the loudest cheers.

This was a night better suited for the nostalgic fun Idol offered. His show is still more like Blink 182 for the older set than something out of Branson, so some small sins can be forgiven -- especially when you're shouting along to "Don't Need a Gun" or "Blue Highway."

John Young is a free-lance writer.

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