During the pandemic lockdowns, Billy Idol recorded and released two pretty damn good EPs — The Roadside (2021) and The Cage (2022).
Speaking of The Roadside at The Atlantis in DC recently, Billy explained the song “Bitter Taste” was about his infamous motorcycle accident in 1990: “I didn’t know what the future was going to be. It was uncertain. I was in the hospital for a month; I had seven operations. It was horrible.”
He added: “I thought maybe if I write about that, it will resonate.”
Billy performed the song about one third of the way through his intimate, sold-out performance at The Atlantis on Sept. 17, and the crowd loved it. They also quite liked an earlier new song, the title track of The Cage, which Billy explained was written as a means of being locked down and wanting to bust out of a metaphorical cage during the coronavirus pandemic.
Appearing as part of an opening campaign of 44 big artists performing in the small space of The Atlantis, Billy Idol rocked through 15 numbers with his band, including guitarist Steve Stevens, and it was a show for the ages. Being a mega multi-platinum artist, Billy likely hadn’t played to a public audience this small in ages, but he truly warmed to the idea and he let loose during the concert as he served up favorites like “Dancing With Myself,” “Eyes Without a Face,” and “Rebel Yell.”
Watch the official music video for “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol on YouTube:
At the start of the show, Billy strutted on to stage, and he became every inch a rockstar, hopping onto an elevated platform so the packed house could see him a little better while he sang.
Everyone immediately witnessed Billy’s warm companionship with his longtime bandmate Steve Stevens in action immediately, as Billy alternated between singing at Steve and pretending to summon guitar power from him through the air with a wave of his hands. The two men clicked easily and gracefully, and merely seeing them stand together was a tremendous highlight.
Billy called out “WASHINGTON DC!” to the crowd at intervals, and he recounted first playing the original 9:30 Club way back in 1982. Production company IMP built The Atlantis next to the current 9:30 Club to capture the spirit of the original club, which revolutionized rock concerts for the city in the early ’80s. With Billy’s off-the-charts magnetism, The Atlantis captured that spirit in leaps and bounds on Sunday night.
Between songs, Idol talked easily to the crowd, like he was sharing tales with old friends sitting around a table. This down-to-earth earnestness simply made him seem even more like an out-of-this-world superstar.
At about halfway through the show, Billy performed a song of his that I long have loved — “Eyes Without a Face” from the remarkable Rebel Yell album (1983). The slow number was such a departure from Billy’s hard rocking punk attitude and yet so still very much in his wheelhouse. At The Atlantis, Steve Stevens gave it a lush guitar intro with Samba overtones (at least to my ear)! Billy sang the sad song with heartbreaking care and the band’s backing singers really took it to the next level.
Watch the official music video for “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol on YouTube:
After “Eyes,” Steve Stevens stood alone on the stage for a blistering solo of classic guitar played electric, which blew the minds of everyone assembled. Billy and the band returned for more more more including “Mony Mony” and “Blue Highway” — along with Generation X song “One Hundred Punks,” a standout selection of the evening. Billy Idol closed the show with a two-song encore of “Hot in the City” and “White Wedding,” which left squealing admirers dancing all around The Atlantis.
Only nine days prior, Billy Idol and his band performed to a very full house at The Anthem, which has a capacity of 6,000 people. It was surely a bit surreal to him to go from the big house of the IMP music hall system to the deliberately cozy new room, but Billy played the show with the same charm, energy, and brilliance. What a night to remember for a handful of DC’s faithful concert-lovers.
Long a resident of Los Angeles, Billy is no stranger to DC, and he left us with assurances that we will see him again soon.
Here are some photos of Billy Idol performing at The Atlantis in DC on Sept. 17, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.