Billy Idol – Atlantic City – The Borgata, NJ – 2004-05-27

Billy Idol
Where: Atlantic City – The Borgata, NJ.

When: 2004-05-27

So many great bands come through Philly that it’s to my eternal shame I have such a hard time tearing myself away from this computer, even to catch some of my favorite artists. The Soft Boys, the Go-Betweens, the Pixies have all passed through town while I lounged around the house, unwilling to deal with traffic and my distaste for human interaction in general. Christ, I even had tickets for the Pixies reunion and chose to bail at the last minute in favor of the admittedly killer Sunday night line-up on Fox. So that makes it all the more perverted that the first concert I go to in months is Billy frickin’ Idol. At the Borgata in Atlantic City no less!

But we all know and love those MTV sanctioned Idol hits from the early 80s, and they sounded good delivered in high-octane style by this 49-year-old sneering first-generation punker. Touring in support of his new disc, The Devils Playground, Billy looked damn good too, cut as hell, lean and with a full head of his trademark white spiky hair. Thankfully, he also had his old pal Steve Stevens along to provide the high-wire guitar fire that was among the decade’s best examples of fret-shredding whammy-bar abuse. Billy was loose and in exceptionally fine voice, letting out some feral howls I didn’t think he was really capable of without studio assistance, even back in his salad days.

Delayed briefly by the hotel’s Byzantine practice of alcohol dispersal, we still arrived in time for “Dancing With Myself,” after which Billy worked through cultural touchstones like “Rebel Yell” and the especially satisfying “White Wedding” with verve and his own swaggering élan. I had forgotten how unique a ballad “Eyes Without a Face” was, and it’s something I’d like to see him return to now that he’s resurrected himself after a 12-year drought following 1993’s much-derided Cyberpunk.

Unfortunately, the new material had an unwelcome “metal” edge to it, mostly unmemorable riffing with the slight exception of “Rat Race.” And though Mr. Idol’s physical frame is in top-notch condition (at least outwardly), his set list paralleled the middle-age spread most of us will face or already are facing. After frontloading his best material, the show went into freefall with a string of acoustic numbers that sucked the momentum out of the proceedings while providing little relief in the form of a good song. There was one number that sounded particularly good, and I’m guessing it was “Cherie” from the new disc based on what words I could make out, but I’m not swearing to that.

The nadir came in the form of a wholly unnecessary cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” that was even too hoary for the older members of the crowd, who weren’t as much the dominant demographic as you’d think. A surprising number of 20-somethings littered the mid-sized venue (I’m guessing about two to three thousand in capacity), though one common facet persisted across every age group: appalling ugliness. Seriously, this was the homeliest bunch of partiers the Mid-Atlantic states could’ve possibly thrown up. Feh.

But I digress. Billy also disappointingly embraced some cock-rock clichés like drum and guitar solos, which I didn’t expect. Stevens’ turn in the spotlight was wasted as he flailed away on an absolutely shitty-sounding acoustic/electric, trotting out cod-flamenco runs in between spicy chord changes culminating in an inexplicable nod to Yes’ “Roundabout.” WTF?? In fairness to Steve, no one has yet designed a wired acoustic guitar that doesn’t sound awful, and flatpicking at lightning speed on such an axe is unforgivable to your technique, each dropped note like a pinprick to the ear.

For fans of the strangely unlikable (but unfairly beautiful) Bam Margera of Jackass fame, there was a surprise in store in the form of an a walk-on with the Philly area deathsport enthusiast and his parents, out celebrating the birthday of Bam’s mother. Seems Billy will be appearing on Margera’s show in the next season, by which time his second wind may have already been expelled.

Though the show ended inevitably with Billy’s execrable cover of “Mony, Mony” – only the Electric Slide is capable of greater evocations of wedding reception horrors – he did at least favor us with a powerful cover of the Doors “L.A. Woman,” a piledriver of a song that never fails to amaze me.

I now owe it to myself to get out more and go see some bands less dubious than Billy Idol, like Philly’s own wonderful A-Sides, for instance. If you can help me accomplish this small task Billy, it will have all been worth it.