“I want to thank you for these last thirty years,” said Jon Bon Jovi, for his band’s three-decade anniversary in the music business is partly what this latest tour had gathered us together to celebrate. “I want to thank you for thirty years of friendship, trust and patience. Especially patience.” That last comment appeared to be redundant, as for this group it seems those listening and hollering the choruses back have all the time in the world.
It was a show whose iconography was rooted in 20th century archetypes, from the giant mock-up American Graffiti-style hot rod bumper which hung above the stage to Bon Jovi’s own image as a leather jacket and dark blue denim wearing troubadour, often with a shiny new guitar hanging low over his shoulders. At the age of 51 the singer still wears his continuing heartthrob image well for a generation of women who grew up with his picture on their wall, looking lean and clean cut and in possession of a beaming Hollywood smile that could dazzle aeroplane pilots in the sky.
Sadly this latest leg of the band’s Because We Can world tour (a classic motto for the ageing rock group on the road, one feels) has been shorn in recent months of the presence of guitarist Richie Sambora, absent since April for what he calls “personal reasons”. The skilled mimicry of stand-in sessioner Phil X through an early series of riff-heavy Bon Jovi classics including “You Give Love a Bad Name”, “Raise Your Hands” and debut single “Runaway” couldn’t mask the feeling the group were a man down during a moment of triumph.
Yet over a near two and a half hour show the setlist seamlessly threw huge hit rockers like “It’s My Life”, “Keep the Faith” and the somewhat less rugged “In My Arms” together with new tracks including those which give the tour and the recent top three album “What About Now” their names. As far as stadium shows go there can be few more slick or crowd-pleasing on the road this summer, and a large part of that is in the hands of its rugged star.
“I could do this all night long, I could play until Christmas and not play the same songs twice,” boasted Bon Jovi joyfully as “Bad Medicine” gave way to a medley of “Pretty Woman” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, and then an encore bearing a sing-a-long “Wanted Dead or Alive” and the inevitable closer “Livin’ On a Prayer”.