At the risk of ticking off the 16,000 or so Bon Jovi fans who seemed to be having a heck of a time at Spectrum Center on Saturday night, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: The show wasn’t great.
But hang on, don’t jump down my throat just yet. Stay with me for a second. I mean, there are a more than a few positives about the “This House Is Not for Sale” tour, which supports the 2016 album of the same name.
For starters, the band itself sounds very much like it indeed deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which it entered during the 2018 induction ceremony exactly a week ago); and even though it’s now lacking two of the guys who helped get it there — longtime guitarist Richie Sambora and bassist Alec John Such — it’s hard to find fault in Bon Jovi’s current live sound.
Every time Sambora successor Phil X brings his fretwork to the foreground, it gives the proceedings a boost of adrenaline, and killer drummer Tico Torres can pepper even the more downbeat Bon Jovi songs with authoritative punch. It’s the little things, too, like touring percussionist Everett Bradley’s knack for picking up an unassuming instrument such as the tambourine and using it to make a song shimmer.
Altogether, X, Torres, Bradley, bassist Hugh McDonald, guitarist John Shanks and keyboardist David Bryan collaborate with their star frontman (himself a part-time guitarist and occasional maracas man) to create music that rocks just as hard as it did 30 years ago.
Then there’s the fact that, even at 56 years old, Jon Bon Jovi remains a pleasurable ball of boundless energy on stage.
Early on, he took jazz hands to another level by shaking them above his head throughout most of 1986’s “Raise Your Hands,” cutting it out only so he could throw hooks and jabs while shadowboxing through X’s final guitar riffs. A few songs later, during 1988’s “Born to Be My Baby,” he chicken-walked across the stage like he was channeling Mick Jagger, then legit started doing jumping jacks during the chorus, as if possessed by Jane Fonda.
Is it schtick? Uh, shyeah. But does he look like he’s having fun — and do you therefore feel like you’re having fun? Absolutely.
The smile helps, too. His popped off more often than the flash of cellphone cameras, and it showcased some of the biggest and whitest chompers rock and roll has ever seen.
He also gets major points for wading into the sixth row of lower-level Section 114 to croon a couple of ballads (2013’s “Amen” and 1992’s “Bed of Roses”) amid beside-themselves fans, stopping along the way to oblige a bunch of high-fives, a handful of selfies, and even a quick smooch with a female admirer; toward the end of the night, he hit the other side of the arena to do the same (albeit for a much shorter spell) during monster ’80s hit “Bad Medicine.”
Finally, for the closer — “Livin’ on a Prayer” — Bon Jovi did double-duty, reinventing seminal rocker “Livin’ on a Prayer” as a solo acoustic folkie that sounded fit for a campfire jam session, then bringing in the full band and restarting it from the beginning as if to say, “Just in case that didn’t work for ya...”
Now, I realize I’ve just spent nine paragraphs saying good things about the show. What, then, wasn’t so great about it?
It’s not what you might think. Though my wife complained about it mightily, I didn’t have a huge problem with the quality of Jon Bon Jovi’s voice (to be fair to her, some critics would agree that it has gone downhill, using as a case in point the fact that he no longer even tries to give the high notes at the end of “Runaway” a go.)
But there was a more-distracting issue with his voice, for me, than pitchiness or raggedness — and that’s the way it sounded from a technical standpoint. Although the engineering of the instruments seemed to have been tweaked with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, for some reason, whomever or whatever was responsible for the care and presentation of lead singer Bon Jovi’s vocals apparently either fell asleep or just was having a really bad day.
Some songs were OK. Not great, but OK. The bad ones, though, were atrocious.
Knowing that sometimes it takes tours a few sound checks to dial everything in, I gave them a pass when I had problems making out a single lyric in the first song, “This House Is Not for Sale”; but when I experienced the same kind of trouble again 19 songs later, I was feeling less forgiving.
I mean, a part of me is actually really hoping that maybe it was just me, or maybe it was just my little slice of the arena (although I moved to the top of my section at one point and the clarity of the vocals did not improve).
If so — if Jon sounded fine to you, and everything about the show was perfect for you — then hey, consider me jealous.
Bon Jovi’s setlist
1. “This House Is Not for Sale”
2. “Raise Your Hands”
3. “You Give Love a Bad Name”
4. “Whole Lot of Leavin’ ”
5. “Lost Highway”
6. “Born to Be My Baby”
7. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
8. “It’s My Life”
9. “We Weren’t Born to Follow”
11. “We Got It Goin’ On”
12. “Keep the Faith”
14. “Bed of Roses”
15. “Lay Your Hands on Me”
16. “Living With the Ghost”
17. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
18. “Bad Medicine”
19. “(You Want to) Make a Memory”
20. “Wanted Dead or Alive”
21. “Livin’ on a Prayer”