March 30, 2017

 




Review:
VH1 Storytellers: Billy Idol (DVD)

By Brian Jacks




While I’ve never been the biggest Billy Idol fan, it’s hard for anyone to dismiss his large body of influential work. Throughout his career, Idol has smoothly combined raw punk with everything from soft love songs to fifties doo-wop. Personally, I take him on a song-by-song basis.

March 2002 sees the DVD release of his VH1: Storytellers concert. The Storytellers series is the slightly more sophisticated cousin to MTV’s Unplugged. Instead of playing a straight acoustic set, Storytellers sees its participants recounting stories in-between songs. Sometimes the stories are short and fall flat, but occasionally you get some real extended insight into creative processes or simply entertaining accounts of episodes in the musician’s life. Unlike Unplugged where every song is played acoustically, Storytellers leaves it up to the musician. For the most part, however, the majority of songs are played either acoustic or with the least amount of electronic instrumentation possible. In any case, the participants usually try to play a new take on a song. While the results are rarely as stunning as Eric Clapton’s version of Layla for his Unplugged show, most songs do come out pretty interesting, and such is the case with the Billy Idol concert.

Recorded in New York City in 2001, the DVD of Idol’s Storyteller set consists of fifteen songs, or eight more than what was broadcasted on VH1. The list includes Cradle of Love, Don’t Need A Gun, Flesh For Fantasy, White Wedding, Sweet Sixteen, To Be A Lover, Rebel Yell, Kiss Me Deadly, Eyes Without A Face, Dancing With Myself, Untouchables, Ready Steady Go, Blue Highway, Mony Mony, and L.A. Woman. Whew.

With his old sidekick Steve Stevens on guitar, Idol is as energetic as ever, almost to the point of a crack addict. Constantly fidgeting and moving in an awkward manner as he tells his stories, as the show wears on he seems to become more comfortable, and the stories get a bit more interesting with each passing song. Particularly notable are the accounts behind such hits as “Rebel Yell,” and how witnessing the Rolling Stones drinking liquor led to the title of the song and the now classic album it was on. Think of it as a commentary track for a film, except this time it’s a commentary on Idol’s life.

In one of the most enjoyable events on the disk, Stevens plays the hit “White Wedding” acoustically with the rest of the band sitting this one out. Idol and Stevens make an amazing pair, particularly when it’s just the two of them in the relaxed environment of the Storytellers stage. Also incredible is their rendition of “Sweet Sixteen,” and the aforementioned “Rebel Yell.” Those three songs for me make this the purchase of this disk worth it. Toss in “Dancing With Myself,” “Mony Mony,” and a bag of Doritos and you’ve got yourself a real party.

A music DVD has a major prerequisite: you’ve got to have good sound. They go together. Bad sound equals bad disk. Well praise the gods because the kind people at VH1 have sought fit to include a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 format as well as Dolby 2.0 Stereo. And boy, let me tell you, this has some great sound. It’s clear and both high and low tones are represented admirably. Of course, it depends a whole lot on what type of system you’re playing it on, but it sounded good even on the 19 inch Sharp that I used to have my Nintendo hooked up to.

The video, presented in only full-screen mode, is as good as the sound. The bluish backdrop of the stage looked positively luminescent on my 55 inch big screen, quite impressing my mother. It’s so clear you can almost see the spittle flying out of Billy’s trademarked snarl. The producers of this disk should be proud of their accomplishments.

Aside from the disk containing the eight previously unseen songs, the only extras include artist profiles and a Billy Idol discography. You also have a music-only option, which I assume is for those new DVD-audio players. I doubt a whole lot of people will ever use it, but it’s nice of them to throw it in.

From someone who doesn’t count himself as a Billy Idol fan, I can say with no bias that this is a great disk for both the die-hard Idol fanatic as well as those such as myself who sit on the fence. If you’re any kind of music lover this is worth checking out.

 


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