When bands disband their leads singers usually go one of two ways – they either launch solo careers before quickly and usually rightly disappearing in to obscurity or they go from strength to strength. For Billy Idol it is probably somewhere in the middle. Having been going since the mid seventies from fronting wannabe punk band Generation X it would only be a few years before he went solo and belted out a fair few hits in the early to mid 1980’s that included White Wedding, Hot in the City, Rebel Yell amongst several others. But that was over thirty years ago and he is still out there performing to a small hardcore base although by the look of a ‘meet and greet’ seen in the documentary many of them might well have been guests on The Jerry Springer show.
Despite the dwindling record sales he’s still going strong and this documentary sees him perform to 250 fans in front of the iconic Hoover dam. But it is a slightly incongruous start to the film seeing the perma-peroxide snarling sneer of Idol instead give an enthusiastic well informed history of the building of the dam – think of that scene in Wayne’s World with Alice Cooper waxing lyrical about the history of Milwaukee and you get the drift. In fairness if the music scene ever dried up completely for Billy Idol then a career doing city travelogues would be a sure fire hit.
But this is a performance documentary and before the main gig begins he and his co-writer / lead guitarist Steve Stevens perform two of his hits at the base of the dam. It’s a subdued performance by the singer of two of his biggest hits and he seems a little lost without his band giving him a wall of sound and the songs would have been better slowed right down and done acapella. But it’s a precursor to the main event where he performs on a helipad someway down river with the dam as a backing. Starting the gig in broad daylight it does have an initial feel of an X Factor contestant having been booked to perform on the motorway hard shoulder but as the gigs goes on the night draws in and the electric lighting strikes a dramatic effect. What it does leave a little late in the show is when the walls of the valley are illuminated with swirling designs that really add to the atmosphere.
Idol has got himself a great backing band with Steve Stevens, a brilliant guitarist impaired only by the fact that he dresses like your nan who’s been on the sherry and decides she wants to dress as a goth. The rest of the band plus guest guitarist Sex Pistol Steve Jones and No Doubts bass player Tony Kanal are equally good as are the two backing singers who give it their all and outdo Idol on his cover versions of ‘Mony, Mony and who clearly struggles to keep up with them. And that’s the issue at the core of Live at the Hoover Dam – Idol at 68 years old is not the hedonistic wild man of the eighties and tentatively steps around the stage possibly due to the near fatal motorbike accident he had years ago that saw him lucky not to be paralysed and here he frequently sounds as though he needs to catch his breath.
As a performance documentary the sound mix is well produced matched by an impressive location – the first time that the US Ministry of Interiors has allowed this to happen. But age , injury and life itself has caught up with Idol being able to perform at his heyday best and when he asks Steve Stevens to comment he replies, ‘This is what we do best!’ It’s one word too many and Live at Hoover Dam serves more as a reminder that Billy Idol had a run of really great songs.
related feature: David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ concert film reviewed
related feature: Luke Goss hits ‘Paydirt’ and talks bad guys & Bond!
Here’s the Billy Idol Live at Hoover Dam trailer…..
Billy Idol: State Line – Live At Hoover Dam will be in UK Cinemas for One Night Only on 14th November 2023
The film will then be available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from 11th December 2023