Billy Idol gives good “Yeah!”
The veteran rocker/curled-lip-incarnate carpet-bombs conversations with exclamatory affirmatives, which roar out of him like backfire from an exhaust pipe.
It’s both a gauge of and an accelerant for Idol’s already enviable enthusiasm levels, undiminished 63 years in.
What’s gotten Idol particularly stoked at this particular moment is the set list for his 10-show stint at The Pearl at the Palms, which launches this weekend.
“The great thing about doing the Vegas show is that we do some songs that we don’t normally play,” Idol says. “There are some deep cuts or B-sides or Generation X stuff that we don’t always do. So, if you’re a fan and you’ve seen multiple shows, you do get something different that you haven’t seen before. And we do change the sets up from night to night so that if you do come to a couple of shows, you will see a slightly different selection.”
Idol, who just officially became a U.S. citizen in November (“It’s fantastic”), returns to Vegas after a lengthy residency at the House of Blues that wrapped in October 2017.
This time, a bigger venue equates to a bigger show.
“We’re going to have some interesting staging, an interesting light show,” he says. “We didn’t really have much staging at the House of Blues. There’s a little bit more of a production going on in terms of what they’ll be seeing as well as hearing. It’s a nice change-up.”
Rock ’n’ roll is dead?
Idol’s return to Vegas is a timely one, in a way.
Much has been made about the diminishing chart presence of rock ’n’ roll.
In 2017, hip-hop surpassed rock as the most-consumed genre of music for the first time, according to Nielsen Music’s year-end report.
Twelve months later, none of Nielsen’s Top 10 Albums of 2018 were rock records.
But Idol is a rock ’n’ roll lifer who took the music to the pop charts in the early ’80s, a somewhat unlikely crossover star.
With his trademark cat-that-ate-the-canary sneer, porcupine-prickly peroxide blond hair and vacuum-sealed, studded leather wardrobe, he was one of the first punk rockers to leer his way into the mainstream upon going solo from London’s Generation X in 1981.
While Idol had the punk look and background and he remains adept at singing with a snarl, he was weaned on classic ’60s British pop. His songbook has always reflected as much, heavier on the hooks than the hardcore hellfire.
As such, Idol became an MTV fixture upon the release of his second record, 1983’s “Rebel Yell,” his telegenic ’tude making him a bona fide superstar.
And so he’s as qualified as any to comment upon rock ’n’ roll’s slip in popularity.
There’s just one issue: He’s doesn’t see any such slip.
According to Idol, rock’s relative vitality is largely a reflection of geography, with Middle America — and Las Vegas by extension — remaining strongholds for bands that still wield guitars.
“When we play, there are slightly different audiences on the coasts as opposed to the center of the country,” he says. “In the center of the country, it’s still very much a rock ’n’ roll world. They’re die-hard rock fans, and I think you get a lot of those people coming to Vegas to holiday. That’s another reason to be doing a residency in Vegas, because you are reaching those people who really do truly love rock ’n’ roll.”
‘We’re not just playing by the numbers’
Idol says that his show is balanced between catering to the die-hards who want to hear the aforementioned, seldom-aired album cuts and newbies primarily drawn to the hits.
But it’s not just what songs the band plays, it’s how they play them.
“For instance, take a song like ‘Prodigal Blues’; it was on the ‘Charmed Life’ album,” Idol says. “That was the one album that (guitarist) Steve Stevens wasn’t on. So what’s really exciting is playing some of the ‘Charmed Life’ stuff and you get to hear what Steve Stevens would have done if he’d recorded these songs. They’ve been Steve Stevens-ized, if you know what I mean.
“There are things like that going on,” he continues. “We’re not just playing by the numbers. There’s no phoning it in in our world.”
Or Las Vegas.
“(People) come there expecting the best entertainment,” Idol says. “They’re going to get the best entertainment. And I’m going to be one of the people providing it.”