North on the 101 Freeway past the Capitol
Records building, exit down Highland past the Hollywood Bowl, onto Sunset
Boulevard in front of Hollywood High School. With each passing mile, the klieg
lights that swept the sky became more distinct as my course for the night
neared... a visual X marked the spot on the treasure map. Destination: the House
Of Blues (HOB) on the Sunset Strip, or as it was renamed for three nights this
week in September, the House Of Billy. As in Billy Idol.
For these events, the HOB took on a new look. The exterior of the building was
draped in images of Idol created by acclaimed Obey Giant graphic designer and
illustrator Shepard Fairey, who also designed the album artwork for the June
2008 release The Very Best Of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself. "My own house is way
too orderly, so we decided to go down to the Strip and make a mess," said Billy
in a recent press release.
As I arrived at the HOB, there was another change up. The traffic on the Strip
was at a standstill! I’ve been to this venue many times and I have never seen
such a mob surrounding it. Not only that, they were the most eclectic group of
fans for a single performer than I’ve ever seen. Old-time punks wore the
“colors” that showed their affection for bands like Agnostic Front, Black Flag,
and The Damned with worn and ragged tee shirts, ripped denim, leather and Doc
Martens. On the other hand were a lot New Wave enthusiasts in the
leggings/stonewashed jeans and skinny tie fashion modes. And in between just
your average Joe/Josey of every age group over 18. Quite a mix-up of characters,
considering that they were all there for the same reason... worship in the House
The set list gave every one their monies worth. “Cradle Of Love,” “Dancing With
Myself,” “Flesh For Fantasy,” and “White Wedding” were the opening tunes. Very
high energy from Idol and his band and the crowd was with them all the way. I
think the audience got a little lost during “John Wayne” (one of two new songs
on Idolize Yourself) but the band kicked up their energy level even higher and
kept it there for the rest of the (nearly two hour) show.
“To Be A Lover” drew the audience back in and it felt like the atmosphere in the
whole place was on vibrate. When “Eyes Without A Face” started out pretty
mellow, it lead to a surging build that left everyone panting for more. And the
hits kept on coming after that; “Blue Highway,” “Rebel Yell,” “Hot In The City”.
Best of the lot for me was the inclusion of my ultimate Billy Idol tune taken
from his early days, “Ready, Steady, Go”. WOW! Was it actually thirty years
since that first Gen X album came out? It doesn’t seem possible and yet the song
still sounded fresh and exciting.As a matter of fact, the whole show felt like
that although the band was at the tail end of a three month tour. Billy’s voice
was rich and strong. I don’t think I’d heard him sing better. With Brian Tishy
behind the drums, Stephen McGrath on bass, and Derek Sherinian at the keyboard,
the set was tight musically. Still, there was a playfulness and free spirit flow
from all involved.
Don’t think that I’ve forgotten Steve Stevens. To even imagine Billy Idol
without the main man on axe is laughable. I think that it’s a shame that most
people only think of Stevens in terms of his being Idol’s longtime musical
partner. Because then they miss out on the other contributions he has made to
the world of music. He won the Best Pop Instrumental Performance Grammy in 1987
for “Top Gun Anthem”.
His work with the jazz, rock, and fusion power trio Bozzio Levin Stevens earned
him the attention of a different brand of music fan. The list of other artists
that he has recorded with a who’s who of modern rock, includes such diverse acts
as Michael Jackson, Thompson Twins, Joni Mitchell, Ric Ocasek, Juno Reactor,
Greg Bissonette, Pink, Robert Palmer, Jizzy Pearl, and Japanese rock singer
Kyosuke Himuro. As if that weren’t enough he’s also recorded several albums of
his own. It was his skill in flamenco influenced music that added a special
touch to the solo he played on stage during the song “Sweet Sixteen.” Next he
stepped it up a few notches with a searing version of “Dementia.”
During the final song of the night “Mony, Mony,” Steve had the chance to play
outside the box again as he and Stephen McGrath did something I don’t think I’d
seen before. In a literal face-off, they fingered each other’s fretboard. Get
your head out of the gutter. I’m saying that Steve played Stephen’s bass and
vice versa, without switching instruments. Will it make matters worse when I
tell you that Billy got behind the drumkit to pound out a mighty tympany beat?
Well he did, and frankly I’m surprised that I’ve gotten this far without
bringing up the matter of his sexuality. C’mon. The man drips of it.
Need I say more?
Back to the matter at hand. "Mony, Mony" turned in a band jam which Idol
artfully led back into the ending chorus during which he introduced all of his
band members. Lastly, “And I play guitar... I’m Billy f**kin’ Idol. Good night.”