Saturday, March 1, 2008

Bon Jovi

Aging hair metallists, don't fret: Bon Jovi hasn't gone country after all.

The Jersey band's latest CD, "Lost Highway," on which Jon Bon Jovi used Nashville studios and players, inspired those worries. But when Bon Jovi opened Thursday's show at Verizon Center with that disc's title track, the banjos and twang found on the radio single were nowhere to be heard. Instead, the song was delivered as a high-volume, guitar-driven, arena-rock singalong. In other words, delivered just like the night's vintage fare, which included mindless but absolutely unhateable tunes such as 1982's "Runaway," "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Bad Medicine" and "Blaze of Glory."

Bon Jovi briefly turned the stage over to lead guitarist and troubled tabloid feeder Richie Sambora, who sang and sported a Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish stinkface on the power-blooze number "Stranger in This Town." But he resumed frontman duties while throwing a verse of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" into "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and adding a Mick Jagger-like dance during the "Sympathy for the Devil"-esque version of "Keep the Faith."

Bon Jovi may have stumped aggressively for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, but he delivered bipartisan fun throughout a set lasting two hours plus. His political past only showed up during "It's My Life," when he directed security to bring a baby to the stage so he could kiss it.

Despite the new record's title, Bon Jovi the man, who will turn 46 this weekend, still borrows much less from Hank Williams than he does from Bruce Springsteen. The links between Bon Jovi and Bruce run beyond their shared loyalty to Telecasters. Bon Jovi's penchant for joyful pogoing and mid-song storytelling also seem copied from Bruce.

Before signaling the crowd to scream the first verse of the set-ending "Living on a Prayer," Bon Jovi shrieked, "Is anybody out there?" That's very close to the money line on "Radio Nowhere," Springsteen's recent single, and perhaps the most Bon Jovi-like tune in the Boss's catalogue. So maybe after all these years, Bon Jovi isn't the only one borrowing from his rival in the battle for the soul of New Jersey.

-- Dave McKenna

The Orion Quartet

Any doubts that romanticism still stirs in the modern composer's breast were put to rest at the Library of Congress on Thursday night, when the Orion Quartet and clarinetist David Krakauer turned in a performance of David Del Tredici's "Magyar Madness" that nearly outdid Schubert in lush, sweeping expressiveness.

In fact, the last movement of this engaging new work directly channeled Schubert's own "Divertissement ¿ la Hongroise" and gave Krakauer (for whom it was written) a chance to display the technique he's developed as both a classical player and specialist in klezmer music. It's a tour de force that explores every color of the clarinet and then some, with colorful and often antic writing that builds into what the composer describes as "a goulash of musical frenzy." And while the piece is no stroll in the park -- it clocks in at roughly 40 very intense minutes -- it's so imaginative and unabashedly lyrical that you can't help but be swept up in it: a superb new work, performed with commitment and striking intelligence.

Krakauer and the Orion also shone in Osvaldo Golijov's dark, otherworldly "K'vakarat," exploring its delicate mysteries with a sense of almost religious possession. And although Haydn's String Quartet, Op. 74 No. 1 (which opened the program), just trundled along blandly before clicking into focus in the last movement, the Orion turned in a full-blooded account of Beethoven's String Quartet, Op. 59 No. 3, that was, in a word, stunning. For those who love these "Razumovsky" quartets beyond all sane measure (call me -- let's talk), it was virtually a peak experience.

-- Stephen Brookes

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