At the conclusion of "Cradle of Love," his opening song at the Stony Pony on Wednesday night (Aug. 27), English pop-punk and early '80s MTV icon Billy Idol politely handed a drum stick to a cheering fan in the front row of the standing-room only Summerstage area behind the Pony, and it was a gesture that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Idol and the band were here, in full costume, politely handing the fans in Asbury Park exactly what they came for, perhaps a bit too readily. The opening foursome of hits ("Cradle of Love," "Dancing with Myself," "Flesh for Fantasy" and "White Wedding") would have better served Idol and the boys if they were spread out throughout the evening.
However, the audience didn’t really seem to mind. Even when the big opening four were followed by a slight mid-show lull that included two new songs from Idol's recently-released best-of collection, "Idolize Yourself," and two tracks from his less-remembered 1986 album, "Whiplash Smile," there wasn’t a mass exodus to the bathrooms.
The people in the eclectic crowd – which included everyone from aging boomers in polo shirts and khakis to young women with dyed hair sporting studded dog collars – were there to have a good time, and they rewarded Idol and the band’s energetic performance by applauding while still holding a beer in one hand.
And while Idol and his band certainly had energy and abundance and seemed to be having a good time, it took a few numbers for the four of them to get on the same page. There were missed vocal cues by Idol, muddled backup harmonies courtesy of bassist Stephen McGrath and a general thinness of sound for the first two and a half songs. However, because there was no opening act for this show, it could be easy to chalk these issues up to technical difficulties that simply had to be ironed out. By the latter half of the 1983 single "Flesh for Fantasy," it seemed like the band had found its groove.
If his band had a weakness, it was its over-reliance on its strongest member, Idol’s longtime songwriting partner and guitarist, Steve Stevens, who decided to take a few too many extended guitar breaks in the show’s latter half.
And Idol? His voice isn’t as full as it was in his prime, but that hasn’t distilled his braggadocio. From his off-stage introduction of himself that paraphrased "Tombstone" ("You tell 'em Billy Idol's coming, and all hell's coming with me!") to his words of wisdom to Stevens before "White Wedding" ("Steve, show them what a hit song sounds like"), it was clear that even though Idol isn't as popular as he was once was, nobody's told him that. After two hours of curling his lip and pumping both fists in the air, Idol introduced his band, and then himself: "I'm on guitar, and I'm Billy f-----g Idol!"
Yes, he certainly is.
Billy Idol's set list for Aug. 27, 2008:
1. "Cradle of Love"
2. "Dancing with Myself"
3. "Flesh for Fantasy"
4. "White Wedding"
5. "John Wayne"
6. "New Future Weapon"
7. "To Be a Lover"
8. "Sweet Sixteen"
9. Instrumental by Steve Stevens
10. "World Comin' Down"
11. "Eyes Without a Face"
12. "Blue Highway"
13. "L.A. Woman"
14. "Ready, Steady, Go"
15. "Rebel Yell"
16. "Hot in the City"
18. "Mony Mony"
Shown: Billy Idol in his '80s heyday (file photo).