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In concert: Bon Jovi at Verizon Center

STBonJoviweb31-4.jpgOne nation under Bon Jovi. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

by Dave McKenna

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 the latest CD, "The Circle," and the 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.

(Jersey boys to men, after the jump)

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The Democratically connected bandleader pledged to not get politically preachy, and said he'd come to Washington this time to just so he could hear "a non-partisan scream." He dug deepest while introducing "Love's the Only Rule," another new tune, as he asked fans to not 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 that or any other Beatle as a lyricist. But his songs, particularly the old 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 over heads, 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 than "Happy Birthday." (Even Cohen himself told a UK 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 goosebumps - 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 doubleneck 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' Goin' On," and the New Jersey tourism theme, "Who Says You Can't Go Home" (which in 2005 got Bon Jovi accolades as the first rock band to top Billboard's country singles charts).

In the encore, the band played "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 doubleneck, 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.

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By Chris Richards  |  March 30, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Bon Jovi  
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Comments

"For an encore set, Bon Jovi opened with "Wanted: Dead or Alive,""

Actually, the encore set opened with "Runaway".

Posted by: endymion_luna | March 30, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Leonard Cohen was once quoted as saying Jon's version is his favorite cover of "Hallelujah."

Also, I laughed when you said, "Sambora put down the irony-free doubleneck, strapped on a pointier guitar..."!

--So very technical! :-P

Oh, if you only knew how many thousands of $$$ I am spending to see Bon Jovi live this year... Though not quite, a 40-something yet, I WILL be taking my mother to the shows with me!

Posted by: serpephone | March 30, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure you're much of a musician. If you were, you would have reported on the beautiful, tight, impeccably performed harmony sung by the four-some on the mini-stage rather than their "bad tattoos, worse hair and cut-off t-shirts." In fact, the entire performance was technically impressive, yet you chose to use your column to mock us 40-somethings celebrating an enduring band. I think you're just jealous. And by the way, despite what you say, Jon Bon Jovi's rendition of Hallelujah was beautiful.
Leslie

Posted by: lander6800 | March 30, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Your review covered some things very well, but I'm afraid you're a little off with your description of how the guys looked. When you consider their ages and what they have done and survived, I think they look absolutely fabulous. They certainly look much better than most! They deserve so much respect for still doing it, and doing it better than most, after all these years. The interpretation of the lyrics is up to individual taste, but they are hardly simplistic and concurrently deeply personal and universal, which makes them brilliant. Just one more thing to say~Jon Bon Jovi for President has my vote!

Posted by: fspano | March 31, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

hey, when's springsteen coming back? bon jovi fans are not rabid enough!

Posted by: hre1979 | March 31, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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