Having been pretty quiet for some time now, the '70s punk rocker turned '80s rock/pop star, Billy Idol, has made a brief re-emergence with the release of Billy Idol - VH1 Storytellers, and it is a cracker. For those unfamiliar with the VH1 Storytellers series, it is an American idea a little like the MTV Unplugged series, where musicians past and present play in a television studio to an intimate crowd, (though not strictly unplugged) and between songs are asked to tell a story about that song. The stories told include why it was written, what inspired it, misinterpretations, and other amusing anecdotes.
VH1 Storytellers has seen artists of all calibres tell their stories; Culture Club, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, John Mellencamp, Eurythmics, Duran Duran, and R.E.M. to name but a few. This performance from Billy Idol was recorded in April 2001, and proves that old rockers never die.
The songs range from his London punk days as a founding member of Generation X, through to his cover of The Doors' LA Woman. He is joined by Steve Stevens, the guitarist co-responsible for many of his big hits, and they make a great double act. Stevens is one mean axeman, switching effortlessly from acoustic to electric guitar, and throwing out some catchy licks and riffs. The acoustic guitar-only performance of White Wedding is excellent. The two have been playing together since Idol moved to New York in 1981 and it shows. Each is well aware of the role the other has played in their success.
The show contains most of the hits from his very successful first three albums (but omits favourite Hot In The City), and thankfully very little from his last two. Sadly for Billy, his decision to change musical direction, though brave, backfired, and his last studio album Cyberpunk was roundly ignored when it was released in 1993. Since the mid '90s, he has dedicated himself to his family. As he teased in a recent interview, his children are now teenagers, so maybe it is time to devote some attention to himself again. Oh yeah, Billy Idol will be touring Australia in October 2002. You have been warned!
Idol himself is no great singer, but he is a great entertainer. His stories are both interesting and amusing, yet it is his enthusiasm for music, and his love of performing that shines through. He is obviously happy being the centre of attention and having a great time. The songs remain remarkably faithful to the originals, one or two sounding even better, and if your foot ain't tapping at some point during this then you should be pronounced dead.
Cradle of Love
Don't Need a Gun
Flesh For Fantasy
To Be a Lover
Kiss Me Deadly
Eyes Without a Face
Dancing With Myself
Ready Steady Go
Presented in the full frame ratio, and therefore not 16x9 enhanced, the video quality ranges from average to good. Some shots appear very soft, and others are quite sharp. Being filmed in a television studio, lighting is fairly standard, and there are few problems with blue light such that is common on music DVDs. Colours overall are good, a little oversaturated and vary depending on which lights are being used. There are a few very minor occurences of bleeding, but you'll have to be looking for them to notice.
Black levels are generally good, though shadow detail at times is a little dark, but this is also a consequence of the lighting and the areas in shadow are insignificant anyway. Idol and Stevens are always easy to see and Idol is actually great fun to watch. Every lip-curl and snarl is captured, as is the pumping fist. There are one or two occurences of shimmer and aliasing, but it is almost nitpicking to mention them.
A quick note on the subtitles. The foreign language subtitles are only used for the story telling, and song lyrics are provided in English only.
The layer change is placed between songs at 55:50 and is minimally disruptive.
Whilst the video suffers a little, the audio is first rate. Why? Well it includes a DTS 5.1 track and right from the first note you can tell that this is going to be a joy. You may even have to set the volume a little lower than you normally do, though like me you'll find yourself cranking it up before too long.
The DTS is a well thought out 5.1 mix. Music is placed mostly across the front speakers, with the barest of overflow placed into the rears, which are used mostly for crowd appreciation. There is a great range in this track. The low-level sounds emanating from the fronts and the subwoofer really drive this along, and the piano, guitar and vocals shine through clearly. Vocals are spread evenly across the front, but there is noticeable separation of instruments. There are no problems with clarity or synchronisation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds very similar to the DTS. It is mastered at a slightly lower volume, and while it lacks the punch of the DTS, it is still very good. The Dolby Digital 2.0 is also fine, though it lacks the crowd atmosphere and the bass sounds are not as hard. It is acceptable, but fails in comparison to the DTS.
There are a few extras advertised on the cover, and while they are genuine, they are a little misleading as they are mostly printed on the inside of the slick and not extras on the actual disc.
Artist Profile: This is three paragraphs of text on the inside of the slick that tells you precious little about Idol that you didn't already know.
Discography: One screen displaying all the albums.
VH1 Storytellers Timeline: Again placed only on the inside of the slick, this lists all the guests who have told their story from Ray Davies in 1996, to Train and Fuel in 2001.
Music-Only Option: This allows you to watch the whole show without the between song storytelling, which will be handy for future viewing/listening.
Overall, this is a very infectious performance. Right from the first note, with the crowd already up and on their feet, and the awesome DTS track, I knew I was going to enjoy this. I have never been a huge fan, owning just Vital Idol and Idol Songs (both hits compilations), and while this won't see me running out and buying his other albums, I can guarantee that anyone who enjoyed his music in the '80s will also love this. Rock on, Rock on!