Okay, I’ve put this one off for over a month, and it’s high time I just got it posted and delivered. I’m talking about a wonderfully minimal, mostly acoustic performance by ’80s rock legend Billy Idol and longtime collaborator and guitarist Steve Stevens that occurred last month at the Theatre at the Ace in DTLA.
I grew up listening to Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell” as anthems to my youth, punk-minded musical rebellions to the mainstream culture and odes to the alternative mindset. I distinctly recall seeing him perform at the Cow Palace in San Francisco during that era, Idol emerging from between two towering fishnet stockinged female legs, and launching into one of his famed performances. It was outlandish, absurd, probably sexist in all the wrong “me too” kind of ways, yet suited to the times … which, or course, were very different from today.
Billy Idol seems to have aged well, grounded in a modest maturity, humble and grateful to still be on stage after all these years. Gone are the theatrics, flanked by minimal lighting and a more socially conscious mindset. At 63, his singing voice is in excellent condition, even if he sounds a bit rough around the edges when he speaks.
Somewhat tangential, yet ultimately related, I’ve always heard stories of his impromptu acoustic performance at Marina del Rey’s Hinano Café, essentially a long favored and historic dive bar with excellent hamburgers. It seems the stuff of urban legend. But I’ve heard more than one lucky person’s account of it. And it’s always made me want to see it repeated.
The “Turned On, Tuned In and Unplugged” tour, featuring Idol and Stevens, is essentially that, but in a more formal setting. This show was the second of two at the Theatre at the Ace on March 16th. I would’ve got around to posting this sooner. But it just got away from me. And it’s taken until now to actually get the video prepped and posted, as well as writing a few worthwhile words about the experience, which I’ve now had plenty of time to absorb and digest.
What’s interesting about this show is how well Idol’s music translates into this stripped down approach. Essentially, this was just Idol on vocals, and Stevens on guitar, which I might add, featured some truly virtuoso acoustic showmanship. A few selections also utilized a simple rhythmic backing track. But nothing too distracting. The setlist was a mixture of pre-“Whiplash Smile,” all the way back to his former band Generation X, as well as the odd cover song. There was also an impressive extended solo from Stevens, demonstrating his mind-boggling ability to flaunt the flamenco guitar at the speediest of speeds.
For me, the biggest surprises didn’t come from the tried and true singles of my youth. Instead, they arose from songs I didn’t give the same level of attention to, despite being of the era. “Catch My Fall” turned out to be my favorite from the evening, a track from the “Rebel Yell” album that Idol doesn’t perform all that often. In this setting, it seemed right, and made a whole lot of sense. I’ve been listening to it quite often, ever since. Also from that album was “Eyes Without a Face,” which I’ve always liked. But again, really resonated in the acoustic forum. Plus, it was fun to hear Idol vocalize some of the instrumental parts that obviously weren’t instrumentalized on stage.
I’ve got a selection of footage from the show. The video quality is reasonable, considering I was seated near the back. Thankfully, there really isn’t a bad seat in the venue. And the audio is pretty decent, exempting the noisy row of Idol groupies seated in front of me, who clearly were reliving some past rock ‘n roll fantasies. But hey, who am I to argue against having a good time? Just wish some of it wasn’t on these recordings.
Anyway, here they are. There’s the tracks I’ve already mentioned, plus Generation X’s “Dancing with Myself,” and the “Whiplash” single “Don’t Need a Gun.” And of course, I’ve included Steven’s epic solo. Enjoy this special acoustic evening from Billy Idol and Steve Stevens.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “Dancing with Myself” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “Catch My Fall” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “Eyes without a Face” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Steve Stevens performs an acoustic guitar solo at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “Don’t Need a Gun” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “Rebel Yell” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Billy Idol & Steve Stevens perform “White Wedding” at the Theatre at the Ace on 03.16.19.
Lastly, here’s the setlist, featuring all of Idol’s solo and Generation X material that he and Stevens performed, as well as a few cover songs. Unfortunately, none of the material is acoustic, nor do the covers have studio or live recordings available.
So I’ve included the original versions we all know and love. And the cover songs are directly from the source, notably Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock,” The Kink’s “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over.”