Bon Jovi comes full 'Circle' at Verizon Center's sold-out performance
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Jon Bon Jovi, who turned 48 this month, brought the act that for about three decades has borne his name and relied on his charms to a packed Verizon Center on Monday.
Nearly 20,000 folks stood and roared as the New Jersey hair-band overlords took the stage to "Happy Now," a tune from their latest album, "The Circle." Big screens in the arena flashed positivity buzzwords ("OPTIMISM," "LOVE," "HOPE," etc.) alongside images of positivity people (Oprah, the Dalai Lama, et al.). That song, like most of the recent material on the set list -- "We Weren't Born to Follow," "Work for the Working Man" and "Superman Tonight" -- featured the same mix of anthemic choruses and you-can-do-it! boosts for the downtrodden that Bon Jovi's been cooking up since the early 1980s.
The Democratically connected bandleader pledged not to get politically preachy and said he'd come to Washington this time just so he could hear "a nonpartisan scream." He dug deepest while introducing "Love's the Only Rule," another new tune, as he asked fans not to let fear guide their life choices, and then quoted another of rock's bon Johns (Lennon): "Maybe I'm a dreamer. I dunno," he said.
Bon Jovi's never been compared to him or any other Beatle as a lyricist. But his songs, particularly the older hits, nevertheless mean the world to these folks. During the power ballad "I'll Be There for You," a lot of fans in the overwhelmingly female, largely 40-something audience waved their hands overhead as if soaking in the gospel at a religious service.
The strangest moment of the show, and a reminder of the weirdest artistic decision of Bon Jovi's career, came when the singer took a solo stab at Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" -- or, as most of his fans know it, "that song from 'Shrek.' " Cohen's 1984 work has been covered only slightly less often than "Happy Birthday." (Even Cohen told a British reporter last year, "I think too many people sing it.") There was nothing obviously wrong with Bon Jovi's somber rendition -- think Jeff Buckley's, without the high notes or goose bumps -- other than his wanting to sing it in the first place.
Bon Jovi was later joined on a mini-stage by Richie Sambora (playing a massive double-neck acoustic guitar without irony), drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan for an unplugged take of 1995's "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night." With its collection of bad tattoos, worse hair and cut-off T-shirts, the backing combo looked like the cast of "Jersey Shore" at middle age.
The band delivered some of the semi-twangy tunes recorded in recent years while testing the pop-country waters, including "Whole Lot of Leavin'," and the New Jersey tourism television commercial theme song, "Who Says You Can't Go Home" (which earned Bon Jovi accolades as the first rock band to top Billboard's country singles charts).
During an encore set, Bon Jovi performed "Wanted Dead or Alive," with its two epic lines -- "I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride" and "I've seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all." Around the time Bon Jovi shrieked the latter, Sambora put down the irony-free double-neck, strapped on a pointier guitar and shredded the most fabulous of the night's many fabulous arena-rock solos.
The show ended with a communal version of "Livin' on a Prayer." As simpletonian as the tune looks on paper, when an arena full of folks in stonewashed denim sing together, it becomes as profound as anybody's crack at "Hallelujah." Even Leonard Cohen would approve.
McKenna is a freelance writer.