Saturday, July 31, 2010

After 25+ Years of Success, Bon Jovi Still Only 'Halfway There.' But That Ain't Half Bad.

Concert Review

Bon Jovi
Opening Acts: Kid Rock, 7th Heaven
Soldier Field, Chicago
Friday, July 30, 2010

The best--and worst--thing I can say about Bon Jovi's sold out concert at Soldier Field on Friday night is that it was about as good as I could have expected.

I have enjoyed the earnest but edgeless New Jersey rockers--to an often vacillating degree--since hearing their first single, Runaway, back in 1984 and seeing them open for the Scorpions that same year. But they have always been quite far from ranking among my favorite rock artists (as illustrated by their omission from this 2005 list and most likely the updated version I will post soon ). After first seeing them headline in 1987 at the height of their initial "Slippery When Wet" popularity, I never felt a compunction to see them again until 2005, and then again last night.

Bon Jovi deserves much admiration for maintaining massive worldwide success for almost 25 years. Of acts that arose in the '80s, I think only U2 and Madonna have been consistently comparable as concert draws both in America and around the globe. And in a summer concert season plagued by cancellations and poor ticket sales, Bon Jovi will have played to nearly 100,000 people in Chicago after tonight's show (for which tickets are available).

But the band have never been critical darlings, often IMHO for good reason. Although they have a solid handful of fun, good time songs that made last night's show enjoyable, their songwriting is often hokey, rudimentary and trite. Many of their tunes traipse the same ground--namely individuality, perseverance and/or devotion--in only slightly different ways. And if their messages weren't hammy enough, they accompanied their latest pseudo-prosaic anthem, We Weren't Born To Follow with U2esque video imagery (clip from a recent show), mixing words like Unite, Act Now, Stand Up, Resist and Believe with pictures of Bob Dylan, JFK, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Muhammad Ali and Oprah(??) that only served to highlight their relative banality and inconsequence.

But all that said, I didn't go to last night's show--I only paid $40 for a decent upper deck seat, but folks on the field paid up to $500 face value; kind of steep for a band who in another rousing-yet-vapid anthem exhorts "Who's going to work for the working man?"--expecting Jon Bon Jovi to have transformed into Bruce Springsteen nor his band to have become Guns 'n' Roses (when they were all together, grimy and great).

Although I didn't absolutely love every song they played, I very much enjoyed myself on a beautiful, breezy night in Chicago (fortunately, forecasted rain held off despite cloudy skies) and have to give the show @@@@ because Bon Jovi did an excellent job of doing what they do. Professional and well-paced, the generous 2-1/2 show was highlighted by "You Give Love a Bad Name" (my abbreviated video below), It's My Life, Runaway, an acoustic duet with Jon and guitarist Richie Sambora on an unfamiliar song called Diamond Ring and a cover of Bob Seger's Old Time Rock & Roll, along with opener Kid Rock and members of his band. (Not even one of Seger's very best, this rousing crowd-pleaser again showed how Bon Jovi pales against true rock greatness, but this was meant to be a complimentary paragraph.)

After opening their encore with a cheesy ballad called Always, which sounded slightly better earlier in the night when it was called I'll Be There For You, the band let the enthusiastic crowd sing the first verse of a pleasing Wanted Dead or Alive and then, in a move too obvious to avoid but cheered by me and everyone else, Jon donned a Blackhawks jersey that had been thrown onstage earlier in the show as the band delivered a rousing rendition of Living On A Prayer.

To his credit, Jon, who certainly doesn't look 48, comes off as an affable and appreciative performer and though more solid than technically sensational, the band long ago acclimated well to playing football stadiums (although only Jon & Richie had any real visibility, even on the video screens). So after the curfew-breaking performance, which followed a fun but clichéd hourlong set from Kid Rock (who in covering/riffing on many classic rock hits, also demonstrated his relative inferiority) and a not awful but inconsequential show-opening set from Chicagoland rockers called 7th Heaven, I went home happy, as I imagine did most of the much more adoring crowd.

In a line hackneyed enough to perhaps make its way into a future Bon Jovi anthem, sometimes it's more than alright to be great at just being good.

(Photos from the Chicago Sun-Times and; video below shot by me of the opening of You Give Love A Bad Name)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good review Seth! I had friends go to the Friday and Saturday night shows so was curious about the Bon Jovi concert.

I would have liked to see a set list which you probably could have looked up and or wrote one for the future. Also, your video did not work so well on your site but on You Tube worked fine.

Well done review. Keep them coming!