Review: Punk rocker Billy Idol pumps up Wolf Trap crowd

Billy Idol’s snarl and charm made it impossible not to appreciate punk's elder statesman at Wolf Trap. Photo: Billy Idol (Griffin Harrington-Courtesy of Wolf Trap)

VIENNA, Va., June 21, 2013 — Billy Idol’s transformation from angry punk rocker back in the late 1970s to beloved pop culture icon of today was an often-reckless journey with a happy ending, cemented by his humorous cameo in “The Wedding Singer” back in 1998.

During the evolution, he managed to amass a decent supply of hits and fans along the way, all witnessed last night as he performed to a near capacity crowd at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center.

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Still a rebel after three decades of mainstreaming, his snarl and charm made it impossible to not appreciate a man built for the MTV Generation.

Billy Idol pumps up the crowd at Wolf Trap / Griffin Harrington/courtesy of Wolf Trap

Billy Idol pumps up the crowd at Wolf Trap / Griffin Harrington/courtesy of Wolf Trap

As he growled through every one of his hit songs such as “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding,” they must have jogged the memories of fans that watched him on the music video cable channel during its inception.

This night’s retrospective offered vintage Idol and plucked ditties from his Generation X years (including “Ready Steady Go” and “Love Like Fire”), the new wave years (including “Cradle of Love” and “Eyes Without a Face”) and, the times when he borrowed a hit from the annals of rock history (including Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony”).

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Still displaying the body of a 20 year old, despite his 57 years of hard-core existence, he enthusiastically bounced around on stage, showed off his chest and engaged the audience throughout the one hour and forty-five minute set.

His patented antics contained a generous supply of fist pumping, numerous crotch grabs, liberal amounts of snarling, an occasional nipple twist and dropping a variety of F-bombs.

This X-rated Tom Jones had the female fans screaming all night and the middle aged men looking for a rest home.

Backed by a band that looked bred from a biker bar, he had a wall of sound to howl over that made songs such as “Dancing With Myself,” “Flesh for Fantasy” and The Doors “L.A. Woman” (for the evening it was Virginia Woman) come to life.

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His co-star all evening was a man frozen in the 1980s Los Angeles glam metal scene, lead guitarist Steve Stevens.

I wouldn’t exactly mention Mr. Stevens, Idol’s long time collaborator, in the same breath as Clapton, Page and Hendrix but I appreciated his tasty, recognizable, crunchy licks in every song.

I could have done without the lengthy, guitar solo spotlight, he was a walking guitar solo most every song.

Billy Idol at Wolf Trap / Griffin Harrington/courtesy of Wolf Trap

Billy Idol at Wolf Trap / Griffin Harrington/courtesy of Wolf Trap

During the musical interlude, his fingers furiously plucking flamenco inspired concoction with a pinch of Led Zeppelin thrown in and he certainly had the audience entranced.

I thank the rock gods a drum solo did not follow.

If you think about it, Mr. Idol is really one of the elder statesmen of punk but he never burned out like many of his contemporaries. He continues to shine on stage through his sheer enthusiasm for life and loyal fans.

* * *

The enigma that is singer Cat Power opened for Mr. Idol and her Siren-esque crooning through 45 minutes of mid-tempo dirges was a bit of a head scratcher.

Looking incredibly uncomfortable all evening, like she was getting ready to audition for American Idol, she fidgeted between songs, talked to herself and bantered more with the soundboard crew than audience.

With a beautiful voice calling upon the best of Sinead O’Connor, Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson, Miss Power could be a force to be reckoned with, having dabbled in many an artistic medium over the past decade.

Yet last night, life seemed a bit awkward for her. The audience politely appreciated the effort as she delivered enough moments of aural splendor. Overall, let’s chalk Miss Power’s performance up as an evolving work of musical art.

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Cornelius Crimple

Veteran musician and reviewer Cornelius Crimple began his love affair with popular culture after reading a comic book starring The Mighty Thor way back in the 1960s.

Benchmarks such as listening to “Who’s Next,” playing a couple games of Pong, watching a Big Mac commercial and appreciating SCTV helped shape his life and waistline. Cornelius digs video games, music, movies, television and sequential art. He dearly misses his brothers Dion, Nigel and Angstrom.


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