It’s been a long time coming, but the English King of punk rock ‘n’ roll is back, and it’s a very welcome sight. With the tour having been postponed twice and various opening acts coming and going, the road to the UK has been a torturous one. But when Billy Idol turned up to the cavernous Wembley Arena, he certainly brought the party with him.
Billy Idol – Killing Joke – Toyah
OVO Arena, Wembley – 19 October 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Aggie Anthimidou
Appearing at the catwalk, which stretched to the rear of the stage as the opening chords of Dancing With Myself struck up, an impossibly cool Billy Idol looked every inch the King Rocker, his black leather jacket and spiky blonde hair timeless. Not only was the look locked in place, but his vocals sound as good as they ever were, the years since he first burst onto the scene with Generation X having not faded them one bit. This was raw and exciting rock ‘n’ roll, the ever-present Steve Stevens by his side as the guitarist peeled off riffs with a visceral precision.
As the neon city set lights up, Cradle Of Love swings and the extended intro to a hard-rocking Flesh For Fantasy ramps up the euphoria, Idol stripping off his vest to the screams of the crowd. With new EP The Cage not long out, the pandemic-inspired title track turns into an anthemic cry when played in front of several thousand people, its hook irresistible. Speed makes a very welcome addition to the night, the Keanu Reeves action thriller theme an extra surge of adrenaline.
With some lighter moments, including the filmic Bitter Taste, peppering the set, it was far from a blitz of high-octane tunes and whilst the faster numbers were exhilarating, there was time for the musicians to show some fine light and shade. From the gentle intro to its monster riff, Eyes Without a Face dipped and weaved and the flamenco guitar and a few lines of Van Halen’s Eruption before Mony Mony, had the crowd dancing. Stevens seemed to be having a ball in particular as he showed off his chops.
A touching and dramatic Running From The Ghost laid bare Idol’s past struggle with addiction, and Generation X’s One Hundred Punks was a bristling delight. It was now just a home run to the end with the driving pace of Blue Highway, seeing Stevens throw in the Top Gun theme, the song ending in a maelstrom of beautifully noisy guitar before Rebel Yell took things to another level. When Idol roared the last notes, it was enough to turn spines to jelly and hairs to raise on arms, such was its electrifying effect.
With an encore that featured new song Rebel Like You, Johnny Kidd and the Pirate’s Born To Lose and a teased White Wedding that blistered when it arrived, it was game over for any last shreds of resistance as an arena full of voices joined in the chorus.
For one night at least, the all-age audience could forget their lives outside and come together to enjoy one of the greatest and most life-affirming shows on earth. This truly is rock ‘n’ roll.
The night opened with icon and punk pop princess Toyah, revelling in the career boost she’s seen as a result of her wonderfully unhinged Sunday lunch videos with husband, Robert Fripp. Always an effervescent performer, she seemed to really embrace being back to playing arenas again, and her joy came like waves from the stage as she danced around it.
Things started a little slowly, Thunder In The Mountain more a distant rumble than a full-blooded storm, but once the band hit their stride, they were unstoppable. Throwing in hits, It’s A Mystery and Good Morning Universe were always going to be crowd-pleasers, and the early track Neon Womb was a symphony of elegant punk that impressed with its ageless quality.
With new song Space Dance described as the song she taught Fripp to twist to and I Wanna Be Free closing the short set in triumphant style, a genuinely moved Toyah took her bows to a very satisfied crowd.
The shift from the commercial punk bounce of Ms Willcox to the industrial strength goth of Killing Joke is a seismic one, the stage bathed in a dark, red light that gives a foreboding atmosphere to proceedings. As the otherworldly sound of Unspeakable fires out of the speakers, its mesmerising drum and bass pattern is like a cry to arms, Jaz Coleman contorting his body as the music flows through him.
The staccato riff of Wardance is a slap around the face, Geordie Walker’s guitar slicing as it reaches the anthemic chorus, the rhythms of Youth and Paul Ferguson jagged, and so it continues. Amongst the highlights, Eighties still sounds as wonderfully strutting as it ever was, spitting venom at all who would oppose and oppress, and Loose Cannon crushes. It seems like another world away when they first hit the stage, but closing one-two punch Pssyche and Pandemonium never once let up with the power, its hard rocking twists and hooks irresistible. Never a hint of compromise, Killing Joke still continue to inspire.