Billy Idol still pulls off punk look, crooner voice

OK, ladies and some gents, qualified good news: You only have to wait a half-hour for Billy Idol to take his shirt off.

Alas, it’s just a tease. The once-and-future chest-bearer turns his back on you and not only puts his jacket back on, but — after a theatrical stage grunt to accompany a brief flash of the still-taut abs — straps on an acoustic guitar to conceal them.

And in the course of a long introduction explaining the genesis of the next song, “Sweet Sixteen,” Idol says something quite telling: “Despite being a bit of a punker, I’m a romantic, basically.”

That one sentence might be enough to explain not only the O.G. of MTV’s popularity back in the day, but why he’s back now for a series of shows labeled “Forever” at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.

At 60, the singer still pulls off passable versions of both his bleach-blonde and leather look, and the crooner voice that plays in melodic contrast to it.

Even if no one really missed him or cared much about his last studio album of two years ago (“Kings & Queens of the Underground”), Idol doesn’t rain on your nostalgia party or ruin anyone’s memories of him. Guess that’s as good a reason as any for the House of Blues to sign him for 23 shows scatttered between now and Oct. 22.

The big hits carry the expected air of a party host who plants a boot up on the moniter amp to posture and lead the sing-along. Opening night launched with a three-hit blast of “Shock to the System,” “Cradle of Love” and “Dancing With Myself.”

The first two songs might have been subtle reminders that Idol’s hits stretched into the ’90s, past the years the third one made him synonymous with Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood on your MTV. Nonetheless, longtime guitarist Steve Stevens fronts the five-piece band for added authenticity and to ensure that ’80s rock hair will not go quietly into the night.

But when we got to the deeper cuts such as “Daytime Drama” from the “Rebel Yell” album, Idol was paying attention to the song’s lyrics and delivery, even if the audience was checking phones or posing for selfies. A romantic indeed.

If neither Idol nor Stevens felt the need to unbuckle their fashion sense from the old glass-tube MTV videos, the two at least reinvented “To Be a Lover” in a lean and timeless version using only Stevens’ guitar.

The whole band covered The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” and Stevens quoted Yes and Led Zeppelin in his guitar solo, more reminders that the MTV wave was only a few years removed from the classic FM-rock era.

Near the homestretch, the rocker who once partied in Vegas with wildman comic Sam Kinison told the audience it had come to the point in the show once marked by “three gigantic screwdrivers.”

“But tonight,” he added, “I’m gonna try to stay with the program.”

Seems the program includes gym time.

Rest assured, ladies and some gentlemen, after an hour and 40 minutes your wait will finally be rewarded. Idol finally sheds everything between his waist and dog collar while he’s running around and doing jumping jacks to “Mony, Mony,” complete with the profane chants fraternity boys made essential to the song back in the day.

And when it came time to signal the band it was time to jump in after his slow intro to “White Wedding,” the cue was a triumphant shout of “It’s a nice day to… Start again!

It’s clear at that point, though, he never really stopped.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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