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  • Bon Jovi - Staples Center, LA

    Wed, 16 Apr 2008 07:57:26

    Bon Jovi - Staples Center, LA - A little bit country and a little bit rock n' roll

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    It's been nearly two decades since Bon Jovi delivered America their first dose of "Bad Medicine." Now it seems that a healthy shot of country is just what the doctor ordered.

    Making their third sold-out Southern California performance in less than a week, hard rock's reigning icons of big songs and bigger hair delivered more violin and steel-sounding guitar than overblown style and flamboyant showmanship at the Staples Center April 9, but that doesn't mean they are ready to trade their rock and roll credibility for country chaps and stirrups just yet. Leaning heavily on latest release Lost Highway, being a little bit country proved to serve Bon Jovi quite well, demonstrating that they can deliver their hits with familiar aplomb, and also offer viable new material in the process.

    While most of the bands Bon Jovi shared stages with through their formative years rely solely on nostalgia to fill seats, New Jersey’s favorite sons have turned nostalgia into a contemporary hit machine. It's all about the song, and they don't overthink it, combining heavy duty guitar licks and thick, ripe melodies with lyrics that speak to their largely Generation X fan base. Their recently embraced country aesthetic proves a move of tactical genius, as it only serves to magnify Jon Bon Jovi's middle America and everyman appeal.

    That's not to say the emollient frontman doesn’t know how to work nostalgia to his favor, but when he does, it’s poetic in its translation. Singing a pair of ballads from a small stage in the middle of the arena with all but one of the buttons on his perfectly tailored shirt unbuttoned for full effect, he swept a 30-something fan (female, of course) onto the stage during "(You Want To) Make A Memory," slow-danced with her, and planted a kiss on the lips before leading her back to her seat. It was like the dance at prom that every woman in the crowd wished she could have back, and it was a vivid example of the magic the singer delivers. The gushing only grew stronger when the band followed with "Bed Of Roses."

    Swooning ballads at a Bon Jovi show are a given, but it was the spirited and amped-up bulk of the 140-minute, 25-song set that proved most defining to the band's present place in music. After opening with the title track from the latest album, "Born To Be My Baby," "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Raise Your Hands" offered an early dose of the late-'80s. "You Give Love…" was the only clinker of the night, the vocals sounding like they were in a different key from the rest of the band, though the crowd didn’t seem to mind. "Raise Your Hands" followed in superb form, joining "Bad Medicine" and "Keep The Faith" as hard-rocking highlights.

    Starting the show looking like he was ready for a GQ cover shoot, Bon Jovi's delivery got markedly better as the set evolved, and the sweat started to show and his fatigue became audible. His vocals showed the warmth of wear on "Have A Nice Day," and an encore-opening cover of "Hallelujah" wasn't quite as soulful as current American Idol contestant Jason Castro’s show-stopping performance a few weeks back (or Jeff Buckley’s original), but was particularly well-received.

    Guitarist Richie Sambora was as strong a player as ever, lending lead vocals and a bluesy guitar to "I'll Be There For You," and laying similarly blues-fashioned solos on "Blaze Of Glory" and a closing cover of George Thorogood's "Treat Her Right." David Bryan's keyboards drove "I’ll Sleep When I'm Dead" and painted a subtle, violin-accompanied backdrop to "Hallelujah," and drummer Tico Torres was in exceptional form throughout. Not a single acknowledgement was made to the either the violin player/backup vocalist who offered her depth to much of the night’s proceedings, or the second guitarist who shared the stage behind the band's "unofficial" bassist of the past XX years, Hugh McDonald.

    As has always been the case with Bon Jovi, the set was heavily-seeped in covers, from "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" morphing into The Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash" and the customary bleed of “Bad Medicine” into The Isley Brothers' "Shout," to a less obvious run through Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and the night's closing tandem of the Dave Clarke Five's "Glad All Over" into George Thorogood.

    Opener and former American Idol standout Chris Daughtry gave his best performance of the night when it counted most, joining Bon Jovi onstage and providing lead vocals on "Blaze Of Glory," but his band's supporting set didn't prove nearly as memorable. Though his multi-platinum status might justify his presence on the bill, the 40-minute opening set didn’t demonstrate nearly the polish of his well-crafted recordings. The set might have worked in a club, but was sullied by a muddy mix and lack of spark in the arena setting.

    —Paul Gargano

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