Billy Idol at The Outer Fields at Western Springs, Sunday January 19th, 2020
This was a good show. I can tell you that, standing near the front of stage at The Outer Fields at Western Springs, the vibe was relaxed and friendly, and the crowd were into it. So let’s be straight about that. And at least one band member had had a nice day out at Piha Beach, as I was informed by a driver I happened to be standing next to, and they too seemed to be having a good time. But there’s more to say than that.
For although this is touted as the Billy Idol concert, you could just as easily call it the Billy and Steve show. Yes, Billy has the name, writ large in the musical memory of those of us who lived through the 1980’s and for whom his hits were an integral part of that time. But the sound that put Billy there had much to do with the talents of lead guitarist Steve Stevens. And now, around 40 years into their musical collaboration, Billy just as surely needs Steve on stage.
The reason for that is two fold: Stevens is a phenomenal player, as he regularly showed throughout the one hour 20 minute set. He looks like an ageing rocker, and that’s what he is, but he’s clearly not worried and neither should we be. Still dressed entirely in black, with long hair also dyed black, looking like he would fit in Kiss, and the eye liner to match. That eyeliner is, need you ask, black. But he had that way about which said, I’m good, you know I’m good, let’s have a good time.
But Stevens is also a foil for Idol, giving the frontman time to take a breath, and adding some variety and texture to the band’s work. As much as I enjoyed Idol’s performance, he needed the interludes that Stevens provided.
Idol certainly looks good: all blond hair and biceps (well exercised, by the look of them), and bare chest and curling lip. Wearing black leather and chains around his neck, he gave us his fist pump and the occasional hip gyration, and the thought that he’s 64 may have escaped the minds of many there. And most of all he seemed to have that knowing look about him that meant he wasn’t taking himself completely seriously.
But on this night anyway, it would have been a big ask for Billy to have held the show together by himself. His vocals, as we heard them, weren’t strong enough, at least not uniformly across the set. I put it like that, “as we heard them” because that may have been due to technical problems as much as anything else. Certainly it was hard to hear his voice uniformly through the first few songs. So maybe it was the sound mix. At one point, during the third song, Flesh for Fantasy, his mike failed altogether. And towards the end of the show rhythm guitarist Billy Morrison’s guitar cut out too, leaving him standing with a sheepish grin at the back of the stage, trying to motion to the sound desk to fix the problem. (They did)
Still, about half way through Billy took a break and Steve Stevens amazed us with a solo guitar piece that ranged from Spanish style guitar, to Over The Hills and Far Away, and Stairway to Heaven. His fingers flew across the fret board so fast, steam was rising. It might have been the highlight of the whole show for me, but it also allowed some time for technical adjustments perhaps, and after that we heard Billy’s voice in a much more prominent position in the mix.
Billy Idol was gracious in his introductions of the band, especially to Stevens. He knew the debt he owed. And he was happy to acknowledge it.
We heard all the hits we needed to hear. Only Mony Mony was missing. Technical issues aside, the band was into it. Special mention to groovy bass guitarist Stephen McGrath, who captured the crowd.
Earlier, Stellar gave us a stylish and sexy set of their hits, still looking and sounding the part a few decades down the road. (As they reminded us) They present that mix that is mainly pop, but with an edge of rock about it, and when Boh Runga lets her voice head into soul territory, then we’re in a happy place. Their cover of Maxine, as a tribute to Sharon O’Neill, was excellent.
Photo credit: Christian Jandrawinata