Billy Idol – Live @ Western Springs, Auckland 2020
Well, what do you do in your 40’s on a Sunday afternoon? We decided it was time to grab the vineyard concert reclining chairs and head out for a couple of cold ones in the sun with thousands of other on an extremely hot and cloudless Auckland afternoon.
WORDS BY JON CLIST & LUKE WESTON | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN JANDRAWINATA
Thanks to a lovely bit of Auckland traffic we found ourselves arriving on site right on the start of the opening act Beachware, who actually started right on time with some pretty cruisy jams. This Auckland based indie-pop band certainly fitted into the role of a warmup opening act. While they certainly brought some high energy to their stage show, the music popped back and forth between catchy and inconsequential. There were moments of groovy tight rhythm section driven pop that unfortunately was overshadowed by an out-of-tune guitar and lead vocals that struggled to stay on tone.
Like the majority of the older audience, I was unfamiliar with Beachware and so there were no moments of, “Oh I know this song”. Kind of perfect for the curtain-raiser, generally a nice bit of elevator background music as people were arriving.
After a short stage changeout, Elemenop stormed the stage and from the opening moment grabbed the audience attention and steadily moved through their tasty collection of catchy pop-rock hits. I should point out that the always brilliant Scotty Pearson was on the throne for both bands.
Kicking in with 11:57 they continued winding their way through the pop-punk moments with bassist Lanie smashing out the phat tones while yelling the backing vocals to perfection. It was quite the highlight to see the multi-instrumentalist Godfrey deGrut flying around in the background floating between keys, second guitar and a mean as Saxophone solo in Every Day’s a Saturday.
Elemenop continued to delight the crowd with their tracks Nirvana, Fast Times in Tahoe, Baby Come On, a cover of the Verlaine’s song Death and the Maiden.
Hidden perfectly in the middle of their set was a wonderful live version of Urban getaway, that was dedicated to frontman Dave Gibson’s sister who had just got married. There was one song that Luke and I didn’t recognize in the middle of the set and when I turned to Luke who grew up in the same postal code as frontman, his answer was “I think It was called shithouse rock”. It wasn’t the best song and really the only down moment of their high-energy pumped-up pop-punk set.
Their set was a great example of how a little freedom and flexibility can take songs that you know and turn it into a fresh live music experience. Then the set came to a wonderful crescendo with arguably their most popular track, Verona. This was the moment that we started to hear the crowd come to life.
It was at this stage we decided a hotdog was in order. Luke went on his merry way towards the food trucks and soon returned with hotdog with the lot. Now, it goes without saying that part of the live music experience is the food and beverages on-site and the wieners certainly satisfied a deep hunger. (Well that is what is says across from Luke’s work.)
With full bellies and a little more pressure on the backs of our little ground folding camp chairs, we settled into some tight as tunes from 90’s hitmakers Stellar. To be totally honest, I didn’t even notice them start their set with a super catchy All It Takes. Luke and I were talking and there was hotdog action and Stellar was so well produced and tight from the stage that it was as good as any of the prerecorded filler music that played in between sets. Stellar* utilised awesome phat backing loops while they strutted the stage with power grace.
Their approach to live music was the opposite to Elemenop but just as effective as they played the tracks in the feel and style that we have come to love. With a big wall of sound, they flew through their massive hits such Whiplash, What You Do (Bastards), Taken, Every Girl, Part of Me and Star. In the penultimate spot they threw out the super cool and modernized version of the Sharon O’Neil penned kiwi favourite Maxine, which saw the crowd back in fine voice as they were driven down memory lane.
A very suitable preparation for what was to come when Idol would take the stage a little later on. Super high quality and Boh Runga is just as cool as ever and this was super evident as they brought their set to a close with the always rocking Violent. I think I could have handled listening to the whole thing all over again.
This brought us to the feature act, the artist that most had come to experience, Billy Idol. The big rock sound kicked in and created a massive build-up with the band coming out and powering into Cradle of Love, which drew Billy out into the fray to come running out. As he made his way to the front of the stage to start his obviously practised in front of the mirror collection of rock struts and poses, Luke leaned over and took this opportunity to describe this rock legend as looking like a cross between the young Billy Idol that we grew up with and his own scrotum. I decided that this was not the most convenient moment in the evening to quiz Luke about what his scrotum looks like, lets just put a pin in it. The thought, not the scrotum.
Back to Billy and amidst some amazing big screaming guitar solos he cleverly led us through a couple of massive bangers from the eighties including Dancing with Myself and Flesh For Fantasy. It was kind of funny that within the Dancing with Myself, there came the first of many instrumental breaks and Idol took the opportunity to make his first costume change. Unlike the many that followed he stayed on stage for this one, perhaps on the prowl as he drew in all the cougars from the crowd.
It was at this point that it would have been a good moment to join the drinks queue or the unloading your drinks queue as Idol and band took the opportunity to play a handful of songs that he released in the past decade. We felt somewhat hopeful as he told a moving story about his dad passing away listening to one of these tracks, The Ghost In My Guitar. However, the new songs certainly don’t have the hooks and power of his earlier singles and as the night sky took over the sun’s domain, the crowd began to slip away.
Until Idol masterfully pulled them back in with the powerful rock ballad Eyes Without A Face. Idol did a great job as a frontman strutting the stage and conducting the pageantry, however, at 65 it is clear that his voice is no longer as strong as it had once been. While the tone of his tiger growls were dazzling, their volume felt a little more like the delicate purr of a house cat.
For me, the show was completely stolen by guitarist Steve Stevens. As Eyes Without A Face gave way to another beautiful instrumental featuring fast classical guitar. Talk about being treated to a wonderful collection of fast and impressive flamenco licks on an electric classical guitar with midi control creating some wonderfully full orchestral pads underneath.
He led his way through a selection of led zeppelin guitar pieces while Idol disappeared for another costume change and perhaps a quick cup of tea. At one stage Stevens and Idol joked about being in New Zealand in the 80’s and being somewhat naughtier back then. When Idol asked Stevens if they could be naughty again, he was shot down rather quickly.
The set continued with a few more lesser-known Idol tracks including Your Generation, which unfortunately sounded like a bad rock-musical number as it floated into a bit of another forgettable Idol classic, Ready Steady Go.
Yet again we were pulled back into the show but this time with another big solo moment for Stevens. Massive huge guitar licks with loads of weird and wonderful effects and soundscapes. This took the audience back to the late eighties when guitar solos, amp stacks and hair were big and in your face. One of the highlights was when Idols track Blue Highway lead seamlessly into Steve Stevens Award-winning Top Gun theme, this was another massive guitar hero moment for all.
As the screaming guitars began to fade, Idol announced that it was time to do one of his two favourites but don’t worry I am going to do them both. First, all he needed to say was two words, Rebel Yell and the crowd went into overdrive just like Steve Steven’s guitar. We jumped and screamed and the whole crowd got in behind it. For a moment the kids forgot about the UN stealing their childhood and the boomers forgot about their Kiwisaver and everyone just danced and shouted along.
A short break off stage gave way to the single encore of the night that everyone knew was coming. After all, this was Idols other favourite to sing and let’s be honest it was definitely a nice night for a White Wedding. As the final song ended, Idol graciously introduced the band and thanked the locals for coming out. For many this is the final Sunday of the summer holidays and what a fitting end to it all.
Jon E with a little help from Luke and his scrotum.
Billy Idol Setlist
- Cradle of love
- Dancing with myself
- Flesh for fantasy
- Can’t break me down
- The ghost in my guitar.
- Eyes without a face
- Beautiful instrumental classical guitar by Steve von stevens
- Soul standing by
- Your generation/ready steady go medley
- Blue highway
- 11.top gun theme
- Rebel yell
- Encore – White wedding