LYNN — Anyone who’s seen Billy Idol in concert, knows the pop-punk star delivers a high-energy, dynamic show, thanks in no small part to the blazing guitar work of longtime bandmate Steve Stevens.
Wednesday night, the duo brought their “Turned On, Tuned In and Unplugged” shindig to a near-capacity Lynn Auditorium. The big question: Could they capture the electricity of a full-band performance without the voltage and amps?
You bet. It was a splendid two hours of music and storytelling, with Idol, before most songs, sharing memories of growing up during London’s ’70s punk onslaught and how events and individuals influenced his writing certain songs.
Idol, at age 63, still sneers, snarls and sports the whiplash smile and blond hair that was imitated by thousands of young MTV video-obsessed suburban punks back in the day. Stevens, his musical partner of some 37 years, favors the stereotypical rocker style: unkempt hair, eye makeup, black leather. More importantly, they are on the same page musically.
This was no lo-fi affair, however. Stevens, assisted only by a cheap drum machine and a bunch of effects pedals, created both raucous and wonderfully-beautiful moments on acoustic guitar.
The night began with a lively “Dancing With Myself,” a hit with his former band Generation X. Idol bopped and weaved like a prizefighter on stage, while fans up front jumped to their feet and sang along.
Idol and Stevens played tribute to a few of the rockers who paved the way. Covers of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” were punk-like songs long before the Sex Pistols, Clash and Ramones exploded on the scene. Cochran and Kidd both died before they hit 30, but their legacy lives on as punk godfathers.
Best of all was a spectacular version of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” one of the Kinks’ earliest and finest garage rockers. Stevens channeled Dave Davies, while Idol spit out the lyrics like a defiant gobbing punk. Splendid.
Some songs fit easily into the acoustic format. “Sweet Sixteen” was a standout, Idol nailing the song’s feeling of heartbreak while Stevens played a tender melody. “Eyes Without a Face” and the Stax R&B of William Bell’s “To Be a Lover” also benefited from the quieter treatment.
Mid-set, Stevens delivered a solo acoustic flamenco that earned the Queens native a loud ovation.
The only misstep was a much-too-long intro to “Ghost in My Guitar.” Idol talked about his dad for some 15 minutes, causing some impatient fans to shout “Sing the song, already.” The kicker was his dad passed away while the song played in his hospital room, but the story’s impact was lessened by Idol’s rambling. He would be wise to watch his Kinks idol Ray Davies’ masterful “Storyteller” performance, to learn a bit about pacing and brevity.
Fans, of course, came to hear the hit singles, and they sounded great. Idol told a story about attending a party where “assorted Rolling Stones were passing a bottle around and drinking from it.” The beverage was Rebel Yell bourbon. He rushed home and, with Stevens’ help, wrote his most enduring song, one of the 1980s’ best. It created delirium in the auditorium, with attendees standing and screaming the “With a rebel yell she cried more! more! more!” chorus while Idol pleaded “I’d sell my soul for you, babe.” Fantastic.
MTV staple “White Wedding” was equally fine, with Stevens really rocking the house while amped-up fans danced and sang “It’s a nice day to START again.”
This was one of only 15 acoustic shows by the duo. Idol and Stevens go back to the full-band setup this summer. Massachusetts fans were indeed fortunate to have a chance to experience and enjoy this rare performance.