By Chuck Cox
Just before Bon Jovi launched into “Runaway” early in its show on Thursday night in front of a packed American Airlines Center, the ageless, tireless, charismatic Jon Bon Jovi told fans he was about to take them for a ride back in time.
But once the iconic band had wrapped up an astounding three-hour set, one had to wonder if Bon Jovi really does have a time machine hiding somewhere in New Jersey? Armed with a rich catalogue of catchy hits that grew by another album, What About Now, a few weeks ago; an amazing stage set up; and fans that never seem to tire of seeing the band play live, Bon Jovi really is the exception, rather than the rule. Very few bands can pack arenas like it still does, which is pretty impressive when you peep a calendar and see it’s 2013.
Sure, there are a handful of bands, like Bon Jovi, that experienced huge success in the 1980s, and several of them (see Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Motely Crue) are still putting butts in seats when they hit the road, but Bon Jovi has never really flown off the music radar since “Runaway” hit the charts in 1984. That fact really hits home when the band starts reeling off songs like “Have a Nice Day,” “It’s My Life,” “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” and “You Want a Make a Memory.” You’re singing along with these tunes and realizing all of them came out after the 1980s. Bon Jovi seems to have a song or two that catches on nearly every album.
And then the band hits you with songs that, if you’re my age, you grew up with. Classics like “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Livin’ On a Prayer,” “Bad Medicine,” “I’ll Be There For You,” and the always-incredible “Wanted Dead or Alive.” But Bon Jovi took it even a step further. The band played parts of other big hits from other bands sprinkled in toward the latter part of the show. Jon did his best Mick Jagger impression as the band played the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” There was also some “Dancing in the Streets,” and “Old Time Rock and Roll,” among others. The crowd, especially the ladies, was putty in his experienced hands. And you damn sure can’t argue you got your money’s worth after a show like that — even if you did spring for the ridiculously priced pit seats. I didn’t. I’m a journalist, after all.
The absence of guitarist Richie Sambora was the white elephant in the room most of the night, although Phil X did a flawless job filling in for him — even rocking the talk box on “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Sambora, who is every bit as iconic as the band’s frontman, dropped off the tour last week, citing “personal reasons.” I never would have guessed when I got my ticket way back when I would be seeing a Bon Jovi show without Sambora. This was my fourth time to see the band live. And while it was a tremendous show, it just didn’t feel right without Sambora. Jon finally said something about Sambora’s absence late in the show, although it was just a shoutout to Phil X over the microphone, as he told him that “it could be an intimidating gig” and that he was “doing a great job.” Richie’s name never actually came up on stage, which just feels weird. It will be interesting when we finally find out what happened.
Bon Jovi is one of those bands I will always try to see when it rolls through. From the first time I saw it play in 1989, I was hooked. Hopefully, with no offense at all to Phil X, Sambora will be back next time around. And Thursday’s show was pretty solid evidence there will be plenty more times around for Bon Jovi.