With a ‘Rebel Yell,’ Billy Idol fist-pumps his way into Las Vegas
The Billy Idol: Forever series of shows at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues isn’t just the latest rock star residency in Vegas. It’s also the final chapter of Billy Idol’s most ambitious tour since his ’80s heyday, with guitarist Steve Stevens on board playing Sundance Kid to his Butch Cassidy. The prince of ’80s post-punk has been on the road since the October 2014 release of King & Queens of the Underground, his audio companion to autobiography Dancing with Myself, and judging from a high-profile appearance in February’s iHeart80s Party in the Forum in L.A., the adulation received on tour is only making him stronger.
The fact that Idol soldiers on at all—let alone while sporting a six-pack that enables him to perform shirtless at age 60—testifies to his status as a true rock ’n’ roll survivor. Idol was part of the original pack of Sex Pistols followers and one of many fans that started a band. Generation X outlived the initial blast of British punk, with spiky-haired Idol going against the grain by demonstrating reverence rather than contempt for ’60s rock and ’70s glam. His punk Elvis image earned the ire of Johnny Rotten while garnering the respect of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, but although the band worked hard it couldn’t survive personnel changes. Idol headed to L.A. and his destiny.
A career-impacting trifecta made Idol a star: Manager Bill Aucoin was at the height of his influence after steering KISS through the ’70s, Stevens was a Michelangelo of the guitar whose sonic palette was a sophisticated complement to Idol’s raw vocals and lyrics, and MTV was ripe for a striking figure from the U.K. who could fit in heavy rotation. Idol was prepared for the harmonic convergence, having evolved his music since before Generation X dissolved. “You put the influences of dub reggae in with the speed of The Ramones with the technology of Donna Summer with the weirdness of Kraftwerk,” he told LA Weekly in a February 2015 feature. “What about if you put all of those musics together? And that’s what I really did.”
Idol became ubiquitous stateside through videos from his 1982 self-titled solo album such as “White Wedding” and “Dancing with Myself,” a Generation X song re-recorded with Jones on guitar. It would be the title track from his 1983’s Rebel Yell that turned him into a phenomenon. Charged by Stephens’ guitar pyrotechnics and stage presence, Idol elevated a song inspired by the brand of bourbon he drank with the Rolling Stones into a definitive anthem. His iconic fist-pumping became instantly recognizable, and follow-ups “Eyes Without a Face” and “Flesh for Fantasy” cemented Idol’s status, for all time, at the top of the ’80s pop star pantheon.
Whiplash Smile, the 1986 album that contained the hit “To Be a Lover” and set list mainstay “Sweet Sixteen,” continued Idol’s successful run, but that would come to a crashing end in 1990 when a motorcycle accident restricted Idol’s ability to perform. Tastes changed and Idol’s 1993 effort to stay ahead of them, Cyberpunk, misfired, but Idol preserved through an extended dance with drug abuse and eventually reaped the benefits of the nostalgia cycle’s 360-degree turn toward the ’80s. He was ready—with Stephens as his sidekick and a lifetime of stories to share in song and story form. “I don’t mean to be profound,” he sings to his fans on the title track to his last album. “But if I’m still around/We are still kings & queens/Of the underground.”