Any skeptics wondering how Bon Jovi, a band nearly 30 years into its career, could have posted the highest grossing tour of 2010 got their proof Saturday night.
As frontman Jon Bon Jovi has noted, a string of musical fads have exploded and dissolved in three decades, yet the Jersey boys once regarded as a disposable hair band continue to add to their 130 million in worldwide album sales and string of sold out arena dates.
At Philips Arena Saturday, Jon and bandmates Tico Torres and David Bryan, plus Hugh McDonald, the band’s bassist since 1994, and Phil “X” Xenidis, filling in for rehabbing Richie Sambora, proved to nearly 20,000 in the sold-out crowd exactly why Bon Jovi has maintained such a lofty level of success.
They’re an endlessly entertaining, sweat-dripping, hard-working, people-pleasing rock band. And with Aerosmith, Springsteen and The Rolling Stones sidelined at the moment, no veteran act – aside from perhaps U2 – can touch Bon Jovi live.
Opening their 2 ½-hour set with “Lost Highway” and jukebox staple “You Give Love a Bad Name,” the band sounded tight and polished. Jon hardly looks like a guy on the cusp of 50 with his model-handsome appearance, boyish stage demeanor and exhausting stage workout. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll ballerina who might have something in common with Dorian Gray.
And with the absence of Sambora, it appeared he took on more heavy lifting by playing lead electric guitar on a couple of songs, even soloing at the end of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”
Speaking of Sambora, let’s address that elephant in the room. Yes, he was missed. Xenidis, whose pedigree includes time with Triumph, Alice Cooper and Daughtry, is indisputably a perfect fill-in, adroitly aping Sambora’s licks in “Born to Be My Baby” and filling in the blanks on “Wanted Dead or Alive,” always a duet of sorts between Jon and his fellow cowboy.
But seeing Bon Jovi without Sambora would be like Aerosmith without Joe Perry or the Stones minus Keith Richards. Fabled guitar/singer teams are reason enough for fans to spend a hundred bucks on a concert ticket, and while Jon is the centerpiece of Bon Jovi, Sambora is a necessary presence for the real magic to occur, especially when the two play off each other onstage.
Opting to tour without him is a direct contradiction of the brotherhood credo endlessly spouted by Bon Jovi, but the oft-troubled guitar hero created a quandary for his bandmates. If they postponed the tour and waited for him, it would have been a logistical nightmare fraught with disappointed fans, many of whom make specific travel arrangements to see the band.
But by doing what they are – and Jon Bon Jovi is an ultimate show-must-go-on-er – the concert seemed a little less…complete.
But for anyone griping that Jon didn’t mention Sambora, aside from telling the crowd, “Let’s send this one out to brother Richie,” before “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the singer didn’t say much at all, period, during this spirited night of singalongs, so there shouldn’t have been any expectation of spotlighting Sambora’s absence.
“I’m not gonna waste a lot of time talkin’. Let’s just get to the sweatin’ part,” he said early in the show, as a way of introducing the punchy “It’s My Life.” That, and several gracious “thank you”’s, fulfilled any talking obligations.
But whether bringing fans back in his “time machine” for the keyboard plinking “Runaway” or cruising through the band’s most recent hit, “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” stocked with Bon Jovi’s usual mellow rebellion and an anthemic chorus tailored for hands-in-the-air singing, Jon sounded robust – a little gravelly at times, but always real.
His visit to the front of a circular ramp corralling those who spent super big bucks on tickets found him murmuring the tender ballad, “(You Want to) Make a Memory” and spreading a bit of cheese with the melodramatic “Bed of Roses,” during which he did his politician stroll around the ramp, shaking hands and kissing a breathless blond.
Before launching into “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which he dedicated to Atlantan Jennifer Nettles, his duet partner on the recorded version whom he jokingly called his “girlfriend,” Jon planted his hands on his hips, surveying the crowd with a satisfied smile.
At Bon Jovi’s level of success, it’s sometimes difficult to still view the band as patron saints of the blue collar set, which makes a song like “Work for the Working Man” ring a little hollow when coming from self-made gazillionaires.
It’s the same problem some might have listening to Springsteen, too.
But, as the band demonstrates through their philanthropic efforts and with Jon’s involvement in causes such as this, there is more to them than fluffy hair and a talent for crafting catchy pop-rock tunes.
They are an old-fashioned breed of rock star, and, judging from the superior level of showmanship and musicianship on display this weekend, they might have hit a new peak.
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