Probably all you really need to know about Billy Idol is this: When he refers to his “body of work,” he’s really talking about the work it takes to get his body. No, really. As the one-time punk rocker approaches his 50th birthday, he has fallen into the Mick Jagger trap of believing that having the body of a 20-year-old is the same as being a 20-year-old.
His show is impressively physical, and there’s no denying the entertainment value in watching a man in his late 40s shake his fist and leap around like a grounded teenager. But then, Idol always was as deep as a graven image, an MTV icon in black leather and platinum-spiked hair whose videos were more memorable than the songs they supported, a relic of the time when it really seemed as though pop music had become “75% publicity, 20% haircut and 5% lilting lament.” It would be nice to report that Idol has added a trick or two to his repertoire since he last topped the charts with “Rock the Cradle,” but that’s not the case. His assets and limitations have not changed in 15 years.
There is something to be said for consistency, and the fans in the nearly sold-out theater appreciated not having the memories messed with, but Idol also wants to be seen as relevant, and to that end he’s put together a fine band that adds some gleaming modern textures to the music. But the songs remain as formulaic as ever. He opens the show with the new album’s “Super Overdrive”; it’s powered by a classic headlong punk riff, but like so many of his recent songs, it exists only as testaments to his physical and sexual prowess. “Does he still have the power? Yes he does,” the chorus asserts, before inviting you to “ride my rocket.”
While he may have more stamina than you’d expect, the two-hour show lays bare the thinness of his catalog. The hits come at regular intervals, but the set list is padded with covers and semi-classical and Spanish guitar showcases — longer on speed than precision or interesting ideas — by Idol’s longtime collaborator Steve Stevens. In addition to his clunky hit version of Tommy James’ “Mony Mony” and a laughable “L.A. Woman,” he plays undistinguished covers of “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Who Are You.”
Idol’s abs may be tight enough to bounce quarters on, but his show is showing its paunch.