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Billy Idol + Killing Joke + Toyah

Wednesday 19th October 2022

OVO Wembley Arena, London

Nostalgia was the name of the game as three eighties legends descended upon Wembley Arena last Wednesday. As I came out of Wembley Park Station, a crowd was drawn along by a fan carrying a large speaker with cones that lit up, belting out Billy Idol classics, leading everyone to the Arena like a pied piper.

For the opening act, well it was Toyah being Toyah, the shock of Punkish spiked red hairdo may have gone, but the theatrics haven’t as she gave the crowd a cover version of 'Echo Beach'. She mentioned it was only the third time she had sung 'It’s A Mystery' at Wembley. She tells the story of being an outsider teenager at school and writing in an exercise book one day in class : “I don’t wanna go to school/I don’t wanna be nobody’s fool/I wanna be free!” thus revealing the genesis of her closing number, 'I Want To Be Free'.

Killing Joke’s material has lasted well and considering the majority of their back catalogue never received the coverage of the main act tonight, their set came across as fresh and surprisingly contemporary. Jaz Coleman remains an enigmatic figure wearing an all-black jumpsuit with his stagecraft consisting of an almost military-style marching motion. They decided not to include 'Love Like Blood' in their set which was personally disappointing for me, but did include their anthem 'Eighties', which they sonically tweaked to match the set’s industrial Gothic tone and sound far less than Nirvana’s 'Come as You Are', which Cobain had acknowledged Killing Joke’s influence. For me the real spectacle of this set was the relentless tribal drumming of Big Paul Ferguson. It was a pure pleasure to experience that constant left-hand building a steady rhythm on the ride cymbal from start to finish.

Enter Billy Idol atop a stage set of carefully constructed scaffolded terracing to set the post-industrial theme. Billy is an old-time rocker at heart and despite his Punk origins, Elvis was clearly his biggest influence, and for this packed audience, this is the level of affection he still commands. He kicks off his set with the Generation X classic 'Dancing with Myself' later to be turned into a solo hit, which immediately gets the whole arena to their feet. With the bleached blonde hair and characteristic sneer, Billy does not seem to have aged and does a costume change on stage to the sound of inevitable wolf-whistles from his hollering fans (the least Wembley Arena could have done was supply this mega Rock star with a dressing room surely?).

The main purpose of these set of concerts was to showcase the material coming from the 'Cage' EP, the subject of which was the recent pandemic, relating how he could not attend his own mother’s funeral movingly. The song 'Cage' itself is a return to form with a riff reminiscent of Rick Springfield’s 'Jessie’s Girl', the song tackles the restrictions and frustrations of lockdown with a rage-fuelled yelling chorus (sound familiar?). All this is set to an enormous backdrop of the official video playing in the background. It is Billy’s ability to engage in a candid way with the audience that is part of his enduring charm. With the acoustic opening of 'Bitter Taste' he recalls his infamous motorcycle crash and the parallels with lockdown life, his vocals adopt a more reflective tone moving to a more refined chorus.

There was even something for film buffs in this set as the song 'Speed' from the Keanu Reeves vehicle is included and lead guitarist and long-time collaborator, Steve Stevens, even surprises the crowd with the "Top Gun Theme” during one of his solos; it turns out he was asked to reprise his playing on the most recent “Top Gun: Maverick” soundtrack. Inevitably, the fan favourites are saved for the final act such as 'Rebel Yell' as well as a generous giveaway of drumsticks and frisbees. Billy gives a shout out to his sister Jane who is in audience, and as the lyrics reveal, was the inspiration for 'White Wedding'. With the crowd in a frenzied state, it may just be we witnessed an early coronation: Long Live King Billy!

Ivan De Mello

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