Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Concert review: Billy Idol headlines at new House of Blues Anaheim

This concert review originally ran on The Orange County Register website and was published on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.

Review by Robert Kinsler

Photos courtesy of Kelly A. Swift

Billy Idol performing at House of Blues Anaheim on Monday, March 13, 2017.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift
It has been 35 years since British rocker Billy Idol's self-titled debut album helped catapult him to stardom in the U.S. And with the music of the 1980s seemingly as popular as ever, it's no wonder the Stanmore, England native's concert at the new House of Blues Anaheim on Monday night (March 13, 2017) played out before a sold-out crowd.

Defying time with his bleached-blond hair and still wearing his signature black leather jacket, the 61-year-old artist brought his collection of '80s radio and MTV staples to Anaheim for a 13-song set that spanned 80 minutes.
Steve Stevens, left, and Billy Idol at House of Blues
Anaheim on March 13. Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Guitarist Steve Stevens has long been a critical part of Idol's biggest successes, helping craft a muscular sound blending both post-punk rhythms and hard rock lead guitar-heavy styles. The palpable dynamic between Stevens' distinctive guitar work and Idol's forceful vocals was a formula that worked well, with a strong four-man band providing additional firepower during the set.

From the time Idol took the stage, it was clear he has lost little of the personae that made him a star. Frequently clinching his right fist, Idol led the band through a set of songs that were at times faithful to the studio recordings but were usually extended to allow for audience participation or to highlight Stevens' guitar prowess. "Dancing With Myself" captured the spirit of the original version, but "Flesh For Fantasy" benefited from an extended Stevens solo and a dramatic close featuring the full ensemble (drummer Erik Eldenius, bassist Stephen McGrath, keyboardist Paul Trudeau and guitarist Billy Morrison).

"Can't Break Me Down," a track off Idol's stellar 2014 comeback Kings & Queens of the Underground, and the Americana-tinged "John Wayne" were among early standouts of the set. Idol scaled back the rock attack for a nuanced approach on "Eyes Without a Face," where a sea of synth sounds and Stevens' acoustic-flavored guitar set the tone for the song's opening half before the full-scale rock sound marked the song's final chapter.
Steve Stevens, left, and Billy Idol at
House of Blues Anaheim.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

"Don't Need a Gun" also benefited from a more scaled back approach, with Stevens playing a flamenco style. 

A true highlight of the night was a take on "Blue Highway." From the time the song was launched, Stevens firing away while bathed in a shower of blue light, through Idol's emotional delivery of the lyrics, it captured the more progressive side of Idol's musical approach. "Fantastic Steve," Idol remarked to Stevens after the song. "That was beautiful."

After ending the set with a spirited audience shout-along of "Rebel Yell," Idol returned for "White Wedding." The song was launched with only Idol and Stevens on stage, performing a dramatically acoustic-minded version before the band joined them to rock the night to a close.

Billy Idol's setlist at House of Blues Anaheim on March 13
Shock to the System / Dancing With Myself / Flesh For Fantasy / Can't Break Me Down / Scream / John Wayne / Eyes Without a Face / (Steve Stevens guitar solo) / Don't Need a Gun / King Rocker / Blue Highway / Rebel Yell
White Wedding

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