Concert Review: Billy Idol (Saturday, February 7, 2015 At The Riviera Theatre)

Concert Review: Billy Idol (Saturday, February 7, 2015 At The Riviera Theatre)
Photo by Barry Brecheisen

Saturday night in Uptown, the fist pump was in full effect as Billy Idol led a tight, five piece backing band through nearly two hours live on stage at the Riviera Theatre… 

In 1993, following the release of his fifth studio album Cyberpunk, Billy Idol essentially disappeared from the music landscape.  Grunge began to saturate not only music but pop culture and the early nineties proved to be a bad time for a rocker like Idol to try his hand at a concept album (especially one as far ahead of its time as Cyberpunk turned out to be).  In the twenty-two years since, Idol has released only three studio albums (one of which – a 2006 Christmas album – barely counts).

There are some rock stars you don’t necessarily expect to see age gracefully.  Billy Idol is one of them.  But amidst the last few months of his fifties (Idol turns 60 in November), he picks up in 2015 where he left off at the end of 2014 with the release of his reportedly self-penned autobiography Dancing With Myself and the October release of his seventh studio album Kings & Queens of the Underground.

Idol’s never exactly come off as the introspective type, but the new album continues in a narrative similar to that of the book – one which seems to showcase the humble side of a rocker looking to remind fans exactly what he’s accomplished and begin to cement a legacy… while, at the same time, not exactly shying away from the legendary antics he’s become perhaps better-known for along the way.  It’s easy to forget that before his first proper solo album in 1981, Idol had already released several albums as a member of UK punk band Generation X which formed in 1976 – the same year as The Clash and only two years after the Ramones.

And songs spanning his once unthinkable thirty-nine year career were all on display Saturday at the Riv.  The new wave tone of “Dancing With Myself” that rendered Generation X something of an anomaly in the UK punk scene hit early but it was “Ready Steady Go” that gave fans a better look at Idol’s less polished punk pedigree later.

Steve Stevens - Riviera, Chicago 2015 (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

Photo by Barry Brecheisen

Idol played both acoustic and electric guitar Saturday but was, nevertheless, more than happy to frequently cede center stage to his longtime guitar playing partner in crime Steve Stevens. Stevens wore his flamenco influences on his sleeve throughout the night, most notably with a long solo midway through the set that seemed to work in elements of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” alongside pieces of both “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.  The underrated guitarist masterfully weaved in other riffs all night for those paying close attention, a little MC5 during an extended “Mony Mony” intro amongst them (in between windmills and a duck walk of course).

But the most obvious element of Saturday’s show was just how much fun the band members seemed to be having.  Idol visibly cracked up multiple times during a somewhat sloppy take on new track “Whiskey and Pills” opting to right that wrong and perform the song all over again.  “At least we’re doing new songs! We might do ’em wrong… but they’re new!” joked Stevens as the band tore back into a second take on the track.

As is to be expected, the people watching at a Billy Idol concert is also top notch.  Midway through a rendition of “Blue Highway,” from 1983’s Rebel Yell album, a fan threw a blue thong onto the stage.  Idol picked it up and gave it a good sniff before placing it on the head of his defenseless bass player mid-song.  “Rebel Yell” itself followed and off came Idol’s shirt (which is how you know he means business).  A fan followed suit pelting him in the head with her bra moments later, mid-verse.  Regardless, the undergarment assault seemed to have little effect on Idol’s impressive ability to fist pump, head nod and snarl simultaneously.

Billy Idol - Riviera Theatre, Chicago 2015 (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

Photo by Barry Brecheisen

But while the new material fit in surprisingly well, it was hits like that that fans paid to see – And Idol delivered.  “Cradle of Love” came second with “Flesh for Fantasy” and “Eyes Without a Face” following shortly thereafter.  A murderer’s row consisting of “Rebel Yell,” “White Wedding,” and “Mony Mony” (alternate lyrics intact) closed the show.

While his punches to the air may have lost some of their pop, his vocals for the most part have not.  And there’s simply no denying how well Billy Idol works an audience.  An overly gracious host throughout, he handed out everything from setlists to drumsticks and even frisbees to those in front on the general admission floor (pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down). And Idol had humorous moments himself too, kowtowing to the crowd by working the word “Chicago” into “Dancing With Myself” at least twenty times and christening his version of The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” “Chicago Woman” for the evening.

And while there were funny moments throughout Saturday’s show, he saved the best one for last, closing his introductions of the band and leaving the crowd with this first person reflection of self-awareness:  “I play the guitar – I’M BILLY F—ING IDOL!”

That he is.  And he remains uniquely suited for it.

(For more of Barry Brecheisen’s photos from Saturday’s show, click HERE)

– Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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