- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

Billy Idol gave the media fits during his fist-pumping heyday. The sneering, spiky-haired singer dressed the part of the punk, down to the medal-studded outerwear. Yet songs such as “White Wedding” and “Dancing with Myself” were nothing more than pop ditties masquerading as punk anthems.

Decoding the singer’s current nostalgia tour might require a doctoral degree.

Was Sunday night’s snarl-fest at the District’s 9:30 Club an oldies show? A lounge act in waiting?

The still-trim singer trotted out every hit in his arsenal in a very un-punk concession to his fans. Still, the singer’s performance was anything but by-the-numbers, what with his careening around the club’s modest stage and screaming when singing just wouldn’t do.

Fortunately for Mr. Idol, the critics don’t buy tickets. Fans who grew up watching MTV do. And the throng which greeted the singer Sunday sounded as loyal as a Michael Jackson fan dismissing his baby-dangling incident as “media hype.”

Mr. Idol, without any new album to push, threatened to empty his quiver too soon by starting out with a double shot of “Cradle of Love” and “Dancing with Myself.”

He also exhausted all his signature dance moves in those first few moments: the patented rolling of the forearms followed by the clenched fist punched above his head.

Mr. Idol began his musical life as a punk rocker. His early band, Generation X, specialized in a tunefully insipid variation on the fast and ragged punk rock fancied by fellow first-generation British punks like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

So why was Mr. Idol constantly changing costumes throughout Sunday’s show? Channeling Cher seemed pretty showbizzy, but then he does call himself “Idol” — and it did let him show off his meaty biceps in various tank tops.

Backed by a strong four-man band, including longtime collaborator Steve Stevens, Mr. Idol supplied nearly two hours’ worth of throwback hits.

Not all the numbers have aged as well as the 47-year-old rocker (if one may say that about a 47-year-old man in a bondage-biker get-up).

The bloated “Flesh for Fantasy” should be reinterred in its time capsule, its locking mechanism welded shut just in case.

Smirk all you want at such outmoded sexual posturing, but anyone who didn’t respond to the night’s “White Wedding” never lived a second in the ‘80s. Mr. Idol started the song with just Mr. Stevens’ guitar, the number’s opening guitar notes filling the packed hall. When the full band joined in the fray it seemed like joyous overkill. All pop songs should endure so blissfully intact.

“I’ve been away for so long, so long,” Mr. Idol sang, rushing over the lyrics lest he trip over the irony.

Lesser hits like “To Be a Lover” followed, some sandwiched around banter that defied interpretation.

Whether it’s the council flats accent or sub-par acoustics or too many drugs and motorcycle spills, Mr. Idol sounds like a graduate of the Keith Richards school of elocution.

“Eyes Without a Face” suffered in the live translation, the haunting ballad’s nuance undercut by insincerity.

The former William Albert Michael Broad slowed matters down for an unfamiliar acoustic number that might have been an attempt to age gracefully.

Maturity, it seems, isn’t pretty. The new song, “Big World New,” featured lyrics that would make a romance novelist squirm.

Mr. Stevens, who looks like he favors Ron Wood’s barber, displayed some showy chops throughout the affair, unfairly overshadowing the dynamic rhythm section.

Mr. Idol’s heyday is now so long ago that when he was at his peak, MTV was still primarily a music video channel and he was one of its principal suppliers.

Back then, being punk meant not wearing your hair in either a mullet or like anyone from Bon Jovi.

Mr. Idol’s 2003 incarnation can no longer lay any legitimate claim to punk rock. Besides, nostalgia has always worn better than revolt.

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