Fanatic (fa·nat·ic n.): A person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause.
I think it would be safe to say that music enthusiasts take their music more seriously than any local sports extremist or any film lover who's blinded by the Hollywood lights that grace their actor. It's hard to say what it is, but many times, these fans follow the bands they love with such devotion it almost blinds them. The fanatic will overlook a bad show, song, and album by an artist because they feel connected to these artists more than their blood relatives. Their blind love and devotion is unprecedented. The glass is always half full...ok, who am I kidding? The glass is ALWAYS full.
The fanatic will stick up for their artist no matter what they put in front of them. They live and die for these people and their art and in some cases would die to defend them. These devotee's will find rationalization for David Bowie's experimental side project Tin Machine; they rationalize why Aerosmith jammed on worldwide television, in front of a billion people, with Britney Spears and NSYNC; they convey Don Henley's love of the environment and artists rights, while Henley puts his fans in compromising positions as his band was the first one to break the $100 barrier on ticket prices a decade ago and continue to make sure that no one under the age of 40 can afford to see the Eagles; they immediately jump to Dave Matthews choice to add a pop flavor to his songs by working with Glen Ballard; they shield the Stones and McCartney's extraordinary ticket prices by throwing around words like "legend", "everlasting", "perpetual"...all true, however one wonders how much more money these guys need?
The point is that none of us want to see our heroes fall from grace. We're like dedicated lover who is in denial that their partner has been cheating on them. I'm one of these fanatics. I'll admit it proudly. I'll stick up for U2 and the Pop album any day of the week. I'll stand behind Springsteen and his decision to disband the E Street Band in 1989. I will stick up for Eddie Veddar and for just about any comment he makes from his pulpit, the concert stage. Why? There is a part of me that believes that these performers make these choices from their heart in the truest and most genuine fashion. Plus, my heart is attached to the words they first put on paper, later put on tape and eventually took out to preach to the fans on the road. My heart skips an extra beat when I hear these songs. I (and other fanatics) define our everyday lives to the music that brings harmony and reason to it. In a world that may not love us back, we can put on the stereo, find our favorite song and somehow, we are not alone. We have the music...to set us free...to make us believe...to shelter us from the storm and a hard and cruel world that sometimes is far too real for us.
Hey hey I'm alive
Didn't think I'd make it to the other side
Here to stay I'm alive (Didn't think I'd make it)
Hey hey I survived
It's a brand new day
And I feel Fine
Here to say I'm alive (It's here you got to take it)
The band I have had to do the most defending for is Bon Jovi. I'll admit it, only U2 and Springsteen come close to the level of devoutness I have for this band. The reason being that I have always felt they have had a vast amount of fondness and adoration for their fans, especially the fanatical ones who follow their every move. Since 2000, I have seen the band live over twenty times and have even gone as far as New Jersey to see them bless the womb which sprouted them with stadium and club shows. Seeing this band live is unlike anything else on this earth. I cannot think of a single band from the last thirty years, whom you could take a complete stranger to one of their shows and they would know half of the songs. This is because, love them or hate them, Bon Jovi has strived and succeeded in becoming what is possibly one of the biggest bands in the world by engraving their musical stamp on a whole generation of music fans.
My friends know of my immense fervor. They love it and get off on seeing me go crazy at shows or singing in my car to each and every song. Whenever a friend comes back from a foreign country they have visited, one of the first things they tell me is, "Dude, Jovi is HUGE over in ____" (Fill country name in the blank). I once even had a friend tell me how he was walking throughout an Italian street and there was a crowd of people singing along to a street performer performing "Wanted Dead or Alive". Could any of these people speak English? No, but that did not stop them from belting each and every word out on a street in the middle of the night. I buy each and every single overseas because they release unreleased songs on each of them. I have bought so many of these singles and EP's from overseas that I decided I should compile them onto as many cd's as possible and then store my 200+ singles, cd's, etc away. Little did I know what I was undertaking? It took me twenty-five 80-minute discs to fit all of the material. That gives you a sense of what Bon Jovi has given back to their fans, especially overseas. So why does overseas get all of these extras and America does not? Well, it started in the early 1990's, as Bon Jovi's popularity waned in the US, their popularity grew ten-fold in every other country around the world. For the last fifteen years, only the Rolling Stones have generated more money from the international touring scene. In a 4 year period (1992-1996), stretching 3 albums (Keep The Faith ,Crossroad and These Days) the band sold over 30 million records overseas. That is an average of 10 million copies per album, just for overseas sales. In 1995 when Bon Jovi toured Europe, Van Halen asked if they could possibly be the opening band for the tour. Why? Van Halen knew that this was the best way to reach the largest amount of people in the shortest time.
With "It's My Life", Bon Jovi was able to recapture a lot of ground in America, however, I have always felt, that with a few exceptions, the band plays more to the average fan in America. Whereas in Europe, they stretch themselves to give those fans deep cuts, b-sides and songs off the band's masterpiece, These Days live. It does not matter if they are playing to 90,000 people, they will pull rarities out and perform them with great zeal and the crowd loves it. While I have seen some truly extraordinary performances over the years, I have felt that many of their best songs have only been played overseas ("I Believe", "These Days", and "Hey God"). I'm not sure why, but I get the impression that the band is a bit paranoid about how quickly American's change fads and fashions. I can't say I blame them...but I truly believe that there is a legion of fans so fanatical here in America, that they could throw us a curve ball every once in a while, and it can only help them and add to their stage presence and legend.
Dateline: April 2003
I was in disbelief at the beginning of April 2003 as I felt the band betrayed their fans in a nearly unforgivable manner. Bon Jovi was going down the home stretch of their sold out American tour. The band had played to sell out crowds for the better part of two months showing everyone why they survived the meteors that put their late 80's contemporaries on a list of extinct genres of music. Nevertheless, a series of events occurred that made me doubt the bands charisma, energy, appeal and love for what they do. It started with the West Coast swing of the Bounce tour. I don't know what happened, but for some odd reason, the set lists became very stagnant. I felt like they were calling in some of these performances. One of the amazing things about Bon Jovi is that, even on bad nights they are distinguished. Like cinematic God Steven Spielberg, even "Hook" and "1941" have their moments, but they don't hold a candle to "ET" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark". For the west coast swing, the Jersey boys were in "Hook" mode, still good, but not on fire.
I was speaking to many fans during these shows and they all had the same feelings, but were hesitant to say so. However, many acknowledged that while it was fun, they missed the fact that there were zero surprise factors. Then on Saturday April 12, 2003, the band made what was possibly the biggest blunder in their twenty-year career. The band made the decision to sell a limited edition DVD along with their most recent album, Bounce on the QVC shopping network.
On paper, you sit back and wonder what the big deal is...does it really matter? In my mind it did. First, off, why isn't it just a concert DVD or an official bootleg from one of the shows tours? Instead we were getting mini movies of the songs off of Bounce. More disturbing was that QVC and the band's official web site would not give detailed outline of what the DVD entailed. This made me suspicious. You see I'm what you call a die-hard fan aka a fanatic. Not only do I buy every album, but I'll buy each and every CD single released around the world, just so I can get those extra tracks, demos and goodies that the band has been so gracious and wonderful in giving their fans throughout their career. The band reissued their 1995 masterpiece, These Days so many times around the world I lost count of how many copies I bought. For example, the initial overseas pressing included two extra songs (worth every cent of money I spent on a bloated import price). They then released a live EP attached to the album when the tour headed down under later that year, once again, worth every cent of my hard earned money. Then as the band was about to go on a mammoth European stadium tour in the summer of 1996, they re-released "These Days" yet again with a bonus disc of gems so rare, I would have paid triple the import price to get them. The band has a plethora of material and, at one time, was fearless in trying new material out on an unsuspecting audience.
However, with disappointing sales of Bounce the band made the decision to push the album via this TV special. The whole QVC experience just did ot sit well with me. You see...I've always loved this band. They were one of my first experiences in the world of music back in 1987. I remember being 10 years old and seeing the video for "Wanted Dead Or Alive" and immediately knowing..."that's not what I want to do when I grow up...that's what I want to do right now!" Over the years, I dealt with a fair amount of abuse, you know, the typical, "Bon Jovi sucks", "Bon Jovi is a sell out"...the typical things someone will say of any artist who reaches stratospheric commercial heights. I always stood by them, and even took a few of these nay Sayers to the one thing that could convert them...the live experience that is Bon Jovi. They always walked out, being blown away, even if they would not admit it days and weeks later, I could tell, the Jersey boys went above and beyond their expectations and made the person a closet fan.
While I watched the QVC broadcast, I could not help but feel this was a
faux pas of gargantuan proportions. Sure, I'm a guy and getting a few
videos of Jon Bon Jovi swooning to lip synched songs and a bunch of mini
movies, just do not appeal to me, especially when it is going to cost me
$30. It was the first commercial Bon Jovi item I have not bought, why? I
truly and honestly felt that the material was pathetic. In the years
before, we would be treated to live EP's, unreleased studio tracks, even
un-releasable Prince-like sex songs that showed the band was willing to
go above and beyond for their fanatical fans. Why would we get this? Bon
Jovi knew their audience and gave them what they wanted. However, I can
honestly say the DVD of vignettes attached to the CD was a poor ploy to
ignite sales of the Bounce CD and to get the band closer to the 100
million records sales plateau. I saw it as being desperate. It was as
pathetic as watching a drunk guy, in a bar, hit on a girl and have him
truly believe that he has the magic to get her to come home with him.
However, the band sold 30,000 copies of the DVD that evening, so what
does my opinion matter?
What disappointed me is that the band did not gain any new fans on that
spring evening. Instead, they ripped off, no wait...raped, 30,000 die
hard fans of hard earned money just to satisfy the band's ego and to
reach a sales plateau. I saw this as a quick and cheap way to make a
buck and I felt alienated by the whole experience. I knew deep down if
someone came up to me and told me that the band had truly sold it's
souls to the devils as a result of the QVC broadcast, I had no
ammunition left in my heart to fire back. Even worse was what
friend-of-the-band, rock journalist Lonn Friend was subjected to during
the broadcast. Lonn, being a good friend of the band, co-hosted the
evening on QVC. For those of you who do not know, no other journalist
has ever been able to articulate why these five guys from Jersey deserve
their lace in the history of rock as much as the Stones, Doors and
Zeppelin. He's been their biggest supporter in the world of rock
journalism since the late 80's and has always added a level of poetry to
his writings on the band.
During the commercial exercise that was QVC, Lonn sat there and truly
tried to put his heart, soul and psyche into expressing what it is that
has made Bon Jovi one of the biggest bands on this Earth. He tried
explaining the universal message and meaning behind Bounce, the album
cover...the communication break down of relationships through "Hook Me
Up", the meaning behind "Everyday" and the genuine flavor of who this
band is, each and everyday or their life. However, while he was trying
to talk about the music, he would continually be interrupted and pushed
aside while the robotic women of QVC continued to push the product. All
I could think of while watching this was how anti-rock 'n roll this all
was. Rock 'n roll in its purest form is about shaking the foundation of
our society. It's about making a difference; even if it means singing a
dim-witted song, but it makes you feel warm in your heart...then the
mission was accomplished. Instead, I (and others) felt the entire QVC
broadcast was about making money and not caring whom the band took
advantage of in the process.
As I continued to watch this train wreck broadcast, I could see the
frustration and disenchantment come through on Lonn's face. Here is a
guy who is slitting his wrists for a band he loves...no wait, for
friends he loves and the corporation of QVC could care less about the
art, it was an evening of commerce, nothing more. Lonn's poetic voice
was the only thing that saved the bands soul that particular evening.
One can only hope they gave him a big chunk of the money they made that
night, without him, that broadcast would have been as misguided as
Aerosmith's Super Bowl performance with Britney Spears and NSYNC. Some
Bon Jovi fans may take serious offense to these words, but ask yourself
this...will you watch this QVC DVD of vignettes five years from now?
Will you watch it with the same giddy excitement that you watched the
bands other fan oriented home videos like Access All Areas? I doubt it.
A few friends confessed to me they never opened it and bought it because
they got caught up in the excitement of getting something new from the
band. Why could we not get material like the material Pearl Jam gives
their fans? On their recent tour, they sold a full club concert the band
gave in December to a hometown crowd. It was $20 at the venue and is
better than most DVD's by bands in stores today. There is heart and soul
in this Pearl Jam DVD. Even overpriced "official" bootlegs released by
The Who and Peter Gabriel at least satisfy the fanatics urge for quality
material that the masses do not want. I don't know whose idea this
broadcast was within the Bon Jovi management group, but heads should
have rolled afterwards as they came off as being rash and willing to
sell their souls to make a quick buck. There is a reason this DVD was
only sold in the US and not in Europe or Asia. Those fans overseas would
have spoken loud and clear about how inadequate these bonus materials
were. Those countries have always been treated to incredible extra
material, like the recently released demo of a song called "Alive". Why
this song was not the first single off Bounce, I'll never understand. It
sums up everything the band was hoping to achieve with the twelve songs
off Bounce, it's a shame it did not make the album and a bigger shame
that it will never be released in America.
To add insult to injury, a few days later when tickets for the bands
summer tour went on sale, fans learned a harsh reality that ticket
prices, especially in the Midwest, were far north of $100 before
ticketbastard and venue service charges, up from the high end ticket
price of $75 from the winter tour (and these shows were in smaller
venues). Even more frustrating was to learn that members of the band's
fan club would no longer get the prime seats at Clear Channel owned
venues. Instead, they were given seats to the sides while Clear Channel
suits received the best seats. It was with great caution I bought my
tickets for the summer tour. I can honestly say that for the first time
since I came to love this band, I was disillusioned with their business
practices. I was so let down; that it hindered the music I loved so
much. I am the first to understand that whenever you are able to reach
an audience as large as Bon Jovi has, some sacrifices have to be made.
However, between the lack luster west coast swing, the QVC broadcast,
and skyrocketing ticket prices I truly felt that they no longer had
passion for what they did or for their fans. It felt like an old friend
had deceived me after years of being a loyal to them. I felt like I was
that guy, who if I got those keys in the dead of the night, I would be
right there by their side and do anything for them. I traveled far and
wide to see this band. I sat outside Asbury Park's Convention Hall in
the summer of 2000 for seven hours just to be upfront and center as they
did a charity show in one of the most intimate venues the band has ever
played. I lost 10 pounds in sweat that night just to see a few choice
rarities. I have put thousands of miles on my car following this band
all over the United States. I felt like a life long friend ignored my
calls and emails because they have a new group of friends. Needless to
say, I felt betrayed.
Dateline: July 2003
Bon Jovi returns to America after a six-week swing of sold out European
stadiums. During this time, the boys were taking more chances, playing
songs never played before and dusting off classic anthems like "I
Believe". Yet, I was not incredibly keyed up to go to the shows, all I
could think about were the prices I was paying and the horrible traffic
I would be dealing with to get into these venues. I was looking forward
to the show, but not terribly eager. It just seems like after a long
draught in the mid 90's where the band had a lower profile, they came
back roaring in 2000 and we have not had any time to miss them since.
I saw the first three shows of the summer tour...Chicago, Alpine Valley
and Minneapolis. The Chicago and Alpine shows was a mystical sign of
things to come. I was expecting a full out party considering it was
Sambora's birthday, it was a Friday night and it was Chicago, usually
the site of the best show on each Bon Jovi tour going back a decade.
While the show was spirited and fun, nothing extraordinary was played,
but there seemed to be an extra step by each of the members and a little
sparkle in their eyes. The next night at Alpine Valley put all of my
questions at ease. They switched up the set performing what was possibly
one of the top three shows of the tour, only behind Jon Bon Jovi's
Birthday Bash in Chicago in March and the band's gig in Hyde Park in
London. I walked out of the Alpine Valley show excited because I was
able to see two songs that night rarely performed since 1995, plus the
spontaneity, energy and performance of the band was as good as I had
ever seen. Maybe they were excited to be playing a venue with capacity
of 40,000, maybe they were energized for Sambora's birthday weekend and
maybe, they were making sure that the first leg of their twenty year
career finished on a high note. I'm not sure what it was, but they were
clearly on a mission.
Want me like I want you
That's my heart you hold in your hands
Touch me like I touch you
Make me feel like superman
On my knees (but I'm Rising)
On My Feet (Getting Higher)
I will fly
Hey hey I'm alive
Living in Chicago, I never planned on seeing any concerts in the Twin Cities. Why? Well, it's just far enough that I would never want to make the drive up there. However, one of my best friends, Jeff, moved there last year to be with his fiancée, Amy. Therefore, whenever someone comes through town, I try to get tickets and visit my friends. Last September I flew up for my inaugural visit to see Springsteen. Little did I realize that it would be one of the highlights of his fall tour as he pulled out three tour premieres? Needless to say, I was ecstatic I decided to make my way up for the Bon Jovi show in February. We saw a great 2.5-hour show with an amazing 7-song encore. When the summer tour was announced, I was surprised to see they included Minneapolis again. With the great help of a few friends, I was able to nab tickets in the 7th row. With the way ticket prices became for the summer tour, plus the immobile set lists from the West Coast swing, I had some reservations about seeing a number of shows that would be identical to each other during the summer.
After witnessing the Chicago and Alpine shows the previous weekend, I had a feeling that every show was going to have some changes to it, so I was optimistic. My other reason for going was this would be the final indoor stop of the world tour. I prefer arenas compared to amphitheaters or stadiums and most importantly, I would get to spend time with a dear friend.
I headed out to Minneaplis Tuesday morning and met up with my friends in the early evening. As we had both eaten earlier in the day, we headed over the Ike's for a few drinks beforehand. As we sat there, we talked about all things we normally do, movies music, life and his upcoming wedding. I had taken Jeff to the show in February and I knew he had a good time, but he felt the show was a tad too rehearsed and could not stand the vignettes that were supplied on the screens (the source of material for the QVC DVD). However, he was impressed with their musicianship and the relative ease with which they graced their instruments. He mainly went to this show to appease me and spend time with me both of these times. Little did he, or I for that matter, have any idea of what was about to occur during the second show.
As we walked into the Target Center, I bumped into another friend from Chicago, Brian, who was there on business. We did a little talking and made our way to the seats. As I was sitting there, I saw Sambora's guitar tech Chris (Lumpy), playing a new acoustic guitar I had never seen used before. Immediately, I begin to think..."oh wow, we are going to see something different tonight". I then took a good look at the stage and noticed 3 chairs up on the stage, then it hit me, the band was playing an acoustic set to open the show. I nearly wet myself. I grabbed my cell phone and called a few friends, all of them who thought I was about to lose my mind. I probably sounded like a giddy schoolgirl on the other end that just got asked to dance by the cutest guy in school.
After complaining about how I wish Bon Jovi would be as adventurous as Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen in the creation of their set lists, Bon Jovi was about to show me what they were truly made of. Pearl Jam recently did a 3-night stand in Boston and played just under 100 DIFFERENT songs over the three nights. While Bon Jovi has always been an incredible live act, I've always been jealous of the set lists that Europe and Japan have received over the years. However, this night, everything would be different. I saw a band go from one of the best live bands out there to them giving one of the consummate performances of their career.
The lights dimmed and the winner of the VH1's "Command the Band" contest introduces the band. As soon as she finishes, keyboardist Dave Bryan immediately went into the opening chords of the great John Hiatt song, "Have A Little Faith In Me". This has always been one of my favorite songs and seeing it done by the Jersey boys put me in ecstasy. Jon and Richie took their respective spots on the stage, alongside drummer Tico Torres and the bassist Hugh McDonald. The song was played to perfection. This is a song, which suits them so well. Not only that, but opening an arena show with 12,000 in attendance with a song like this is unheard of. I think my friends sat back and watched in great joy my reactions over the next two and a half hours.
After the dreamlike opening, the band went through a number of acoustic standards, "Livin' On A Prayer", "Wanted Dead Or Alive", the get your groove on simplicity of "Love For Sale" and the poignant "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night". All were incredibly refreshing to see and hear in an acoustic format. "Prayer" continually gets better every time it is performed, as does "Wanted". We have to remember that during the hair band zenith in the late 80's Jon and Richie made their way out to the MTV Music Video Awards show (a show known for it's over the top performances) and simply unplugged. Two MTV producers saw this and immediately invented the "Unplugged" TV program which was probably the best programming ever to be shown on the MTV network, artists taking chances and their songs back to basics. "Saturday Night" is a song so impressive, that I can't see how anyone could dislike it in any configuration.
At this point, I have gone into another world, a world where sales plateaus do not exist and a universe where Pollstar and Soundscan are foreign words. I am in a world where the only thing that matters tonight is these five guys' words and music. I am sitting there and for the first time in years, I am truly stumped as to what will happen next. As great as bands like Springsteen and U2 are, you can usually guess what is coming next throughout 75% of the show. Only Pearl Jam do you really have no clue as to what is coming next. However, on a remarkable summer night in the Twin Cities, I had this stimulation run through my body. Not only is it exhilarating, but also it's refreshing and shows what versatile musicians the guys in Bon Jovi truly, are, something the average music fan and critic never gives them enough credit for.
As the evening progressed I heard Tico's drum beat at the beginning of
the next song...as they grew, Dave and Hugh came in and I knew we were
being treated to one of the only times "Something To Believe In" had
ever been performed on US soil. Immediately you can hear the fanatics
chant the "hey-hey-hey-heys" at the beginning of the song. This song was
the first song written for the astonishing These Days album back in
early '94. Jon wrote it by himself while on vacation as he questioned
much of what was going on throughout the world. As be brought the song
to the band, they added their own touch, especially Sambora with his
backing vocals and thunderous guitar. I sang the "hey-hey's" with the
crowd, as I stood there stunned. The band was in perfect form performing
a gem from the barest album, an album that did not sell well in America,
but stands as the defining album of their career. Never have I heard a
band who reached such commercial heights strip back their sound and the
layers that the public came to know and deliver an album so full of
heart, hope and soul. I am convinced that one day, a great film director
may even score an entire film based around the songs from These Days.
This was only the second song I had seen performed live from These Days
since 1995. I can only hope the band follows their gut and continues to
put forward the effort to not let these hidden gems go awol. I still
believe there is a whole sea of people who will hear this album and may
not only buy it, but more importantly, be inspired by it.
The magnificence of this acoustic evening was that the band was not only
baring their souls through the songs, but the introductions to the songs
added another element. Early in the press junkets for the band's 1992
album, Keep The Faith, Jon spoke deeply about the song "Bed of Roses".
On the 1993 tour, seeing "Bed of Roses" was a highlight because of the
passion which Jon Bon Jovi performed the song. I truly felt that never
had a ballad by any rock band been so profound or revealing. Since then,
the song has lagged on following tours. Jon Bon Jovi makes it a point to
dance with a girl from he audience during the song and to be honest, it
hinders the performance. I just don't feel he has put through the
emotion that he did in '93 on subsequent tours. Tonight, it was all
different. Not only was the energy and passion back, but he was truthful
about how the song came about, he spoke in detail about making a hotel
crew bringing a baby grand piano to his room after a wedding, only to
come in late one night, hung over, and never used it. On his way out, he
simply sat at it, feeling bad that the staff did this for him, and
belted out the verse "Sitting here wasted and wounded, at this old
piano"... from there he went on to give the most heartfelt and stirring
performance of "Bed of Roses" since 1993.
Another reason this show was held in such high regard is in how the set
list was structured. It only contained two songs off of their most
recent album, Bounce. The two newer songs, "Everyday" and
"Misunderstood" sounded better than ever in the intimate setting. Jon
and Richie really worked on some amazing songs for Bounce, unfortunately
some of the best songs were left in demo form and lesser songs were
included and others were overproduced. This band should never doubt what
it does best, writing upbeat anthems. They have a strong suit of writing
great songs and I feel that outside sources made them choose songs like
"Joey" and "Right Side of Wrong" instead of songs like "Standing" and
"Alive". I sometimes feel that they need an outsider to tell them what
should stay on an album and not an A&R man. Remember, if it were up to
Jon Bon Jovi, "Always", "Livin' On A Prayer", "Wild Is The Wind" and
"Never Say Goodbye" never would have gone past the demo stage. I admired
the band for not force-feeding material from the most recent album down
the audience's throat. Even though the band will be releasing an
acoustic album this fall, this evening was not about commerce...it was
all about the music and the songs at their core.
As to add further shock value to the evening, the band chose to take on
yet another song from These Days, "Diamond Ring". Here is a song that
was originally recorded for the New Jersey album in 1988, then again for
Keep The Faith four years later before finding a permanent home in 1995
on These Days. Jon and Richie had performed this song three times, live
on the nationally syndicated radio show, Rockline, between 1988 and
1994. This is unheard of, especially nowadays. It was back then when I
felt the band was doing whatever it took each and every night to give
something back to those fans that follow their every move. For years
cassette copies of these broadcasts found their way into every Bon Jovi
fans cassette collection, as it was a jewel of a song that we felt like
was our own, not for the tens of millions who bought this bands records,
but just for us. The version that followed in Minneapolis was incredible
as the rest of the band was able to join in and it was not just Jon and
Richie, the song was fleshed out but still was personal and emotive
enough that it only added ambiance to the intimate evening. Who would
have thought that I would witness three songs off of the These Days
album over the course of two shows? They need to play at least one song
off of this album each and every night for the remainder of their
career, they may never reach a song writing pinnacle as high as they did
with this album.
As I sat there, I kept on looking over at the faces throughout the crowd
and everyone had an "I can't believe this is happening" look on their
faces. My friend Jeff, a closet fan at best, was clearly enjoying the
evening. He's more of a back to basics type of guy who feel that you can
leave all of the toys at home during a concert and just give him 1000%
and he'll walk away happy. Jon Bon Jovi then had an acoustic guitar in
hand and he began to strum the beginning chords to "Blood On Blood". For
my friends, this was the song I always played for them and told them
"was for them". It's a simple song which Jon Bon Jovi wrote about the
guys he hung out with when he grew up. Unfortunately, he no longer keeps
in touch with these guys and has not spoken to them since childhood.
Throughout my life, I have been blessed to have a great number of
friends. The longest friendship I have had in my life is the one I have
with Jeff. I met him when I was three and needless to say, we've been
Blood Brothers ever since. When Jeff went on his Kairos retreat back in
high school, I wrote out all of the lyrics to "Blood On Blood" for him
in his letter. When he came back, he sincerely looked at me and told me,
"I'll never make fun of Bon Jovi again". While he did not keep this
particular promise...he has kept his promise of friendship and loyalty.
This is most evident by him sitting through two Bon Jovi shows this
year, not because he wanted to, but because he chose to spend time with
me. He moved to the Twin Cities a year ago to be with his fiancée. I
miss seeing concerts and movies with him in the Windy City, but he is
right there where he belongs. If not for him, I would not have made the
trip for either of these Bon Jovi shows. I guess everything does happen
for a reason. Needless to say, it was very fitting that the two times I
have seen "Blood On Blood" on this tour, it was in the Twin Cities with
not just one of my best childhood friends, but one of my best friends
now and forever.
After the final song in the acoustic set, "Misunderstood", Jon said it
was time to plug in. They whisked away the chairs, music stands and went
full speed ahead into "Lay Your Hands On Me". Why this song was dropped
from the set earlier this year is beyond me. Never should this song be
dropped from a Bon Jovi live show. From there on out, it was full speed
ahead running through monster hits and deep album cuts, each one
segueing into another. The speed and passion in which the electric set
was performed was unheralded in any show I have ever seen. It was all
about exhausting you over the course of an eighty-minute electric set
that never stopped to take a breath with one rocker turning into another
where they were elevating the crowd higher and higher. "Born To Be My
Baby" and "Keep The Faith" were highlights of the main set as the crowds
noise reached deafening levels. Like the acoustic set that preceded the
electric set, the band was completely in tune with their instruments, as
they would continue to be until the final notes rang out in the arena.
Feel me like I feel you
Won't you let me come inside
Heal me like I heal you
Let your mind, body, soul, come alive
On my knees (but I'm Rising)
On My Feet (Getting Higher)
I will fly
During "Keep The Faith" I could not help but notice how incredible Bon Jovi's rhythm section, drummer Tico Torres and bassist Hugh McDonald, truly are with their instruments. I truly can say that maybe only Kenny Arnoff hits the drums harder than Tico, but no one, and I mean no one, stands in the back and keeps the beat better than bassist Hugh McDonald. Hugh has unofficially been a member of Bon Jovi for just about a decade, but his roots with this band go father back than just about any other member in the band. Hugh performed bass on the original recording of "Runaway" back in 1982. In fact, he's the only member of the band to actually play on "Runaway". A little know fact is that Hugh has helped out on each and every Bon Jovi album in its twenty-year history. This includes solo albums by Jon and Richie as well. In fact, he has contributed to more Bon Jovi projects than Jon Bon Jovi has. Here is a guy who has gone out each and every night, given 1000% in his performance and still does not get his picture included in the albums, tour programs and t-shirts. It's a shame because in a year he will have been in the band longer than original bass player Alec John Such. Jon claims loyalty to Alec by not giving Hugh a permanent position, ala what the Stones did when bassist Bill Wyman retired. Except there is one thing Jon is overlooking...the Stones had been together for over thirty years when Wyman decided to leave. Hugh joined the band as a permanent member in their 11th year of inception and his participation on studio records goes way back. If you look at the "Thank you" notes in each and every album going back to the band's self-titled debut, Hugh is thanked. It has been long rumored that it was Hugh who came up with that brilliant opening bass intro to "Livin' On A Prayer".
Jon Bon Jovi overlooks is the fact that Hugh has stood behind Jon and the band for twenty years, recording in place of Alec and obeying the code of silence. Constantly standing in the shadows never receiving the recognition he so clearly deserves. The biggest slap in the face was when I opened the bands live album from 2001 only to see no pictures of Hugh included and there were even pictures where Hugh existed and they airbrushed him out. Let me repeat that, they airbrushed him out of a few of the pictures. It actually took more work for them to airbrush those pictures rather than just leaving them as is. Not even the monstrous egos of Keith and Mick would have done that to their touring bass player, Daryl Jones. No song defines Hugh's presence on the concert stage better than "Keep The Faith". Little do people know, but the drummer and bass player hold that bottom line for the rest of the band, they flesh the songs out and give them feeling. "Keep The Faith" is centered on the rhythm section and is possibly the Bon Jovi's best live song. At the end of "Keep The Faith" at the Alpine Valley show, my loyal friend and Bon Jovi compatriot, Dan turned to me and said..."The coolest guy in Bon Jovi...the bass player, Hugh". At Giants Stadium in 2001, Alec John Such was welcomed on stage to perform "Wanted" with the band on the final night. I remember Dan being upset that they actually made Hugh leave. He just did not feel that it was right. I have the same feeling by not including him on the album sleeves and merchandise. Friendships in life are forged through trust and loyalty. Hugh McDonald may be more trustworthy and loyal than any other member of the Bon Jovi organization. I can only hope that he will one day get his due.
The band finished the show, never letting up, with an all out riot with "Shout". As the song completed, they took their bows and disappeared into the night. The lights went on and my friend Brian came up to me and said, "I wish you could see the look on your face right now". My friend Jeff, the eternal rock cynic, looked at me and said, "This show was 10 times better than the one in February. This show was unrehearsed and it felt real; no staging, no acting, just pure rock n' roll". Bon Jovi is one of the greatest live bands on this earth. Every tour they seem to do one or two shows were rules do not apply. On the last tour, that show was the Grand Rapids, MI show. For the Bounce tour, it will easily be the Minneapolis show. Even if the band does this acoustic show again in the summer (at press time it has been confirmed), it will not be indoors, there will be at least double the amount of people there, and more importantly; the shock and awe factor will be gone. During Bon Jovi shows, even when it's a new tour, you have a sense of what will be performed next. On Tuesday night, all rules went out the window as I got to see a great live band elevate them to another level. Not even Bruce could successfully open a show with an hour of acoustic material in a venue this big. Only Pearl Jam would dare do something so original or authentic. I must give my props to the Jersey boys as they made me eat my words and restored my faith after the debacle this past spring. The performance was beyond incendiary and proved to be a career defining performance. I can only hope they keep that passion with the remainder of their shows and let every crowd witness what I was able to view with my own eyes. This is the stuff that legends are made of.
This fall, the band will release an acoustic album. All I can say is that hopefully this album will be every bit as extraordinary as these live performances. A few years back, I compiled a number of their acoustic numbers over three discs and it shows this band in their purest form. If I ever have a naysayer denying their ability as musicians, I'll let them listen to these cd's, they are usually converted after hearing them,. Because in the over-the-top production society we live in, rarely do bands play in this format anymore. I can only hope that the band does fills people needs for the acoustic album by releasing a two disc set. Not only does it make sense from a fan perspective, but it makes sense from a business perspective. If their live album from 2001 has been a double disc affair, they would have released the 100 million sales mark before the start of the Bounce tour earlier this year, possibly ducking the entire QVC nightmare. One can only hope they don't make that mistake again.
Like the wounded and down-for-the-count race horse, Seabiscuit, Bon Jovi rose up from the ashes after their self inflicted fall from grace to reach a higher and more spiritual plane...the same kind of level a former junkie makes when he is clean. They are viewing their life from a fresh perspective, an outlook that is not clouded by greed or ego. The Minneapolis show was about giving something back to those fans that would lay down in traffic for this band. I have grown up with these songs, loved them and had them become a part of my life. The ability to watch an evening in which I would witness the actual womb where these songs were conceived made the music feel as alive as they have ever been. They did not need satellite dishes, lasers or any other props on this evening, they simply walked out onto the stage, stripped and ready to bare their souls to each and every one of the 12,000 in attendance. Like their Irish contemporaries, U2, the evening was much like the band's "Elevation" world tour...it was back to basics. You know what? Everything about the night felt right.
I am heading out on the road tomorrow to catch two more of these shows, in Columbus and Indianapolis. I am sure these shows will be every bit as good as Minneapolis but nothing will ever match the exhilaration or shock value of July 15, 2003 ever again. Another guy from Jersey made history that same night by opening the first of what will be ten sold out nights at Giants Stadium, the most consecutive shows ever played on one tour by one artist, anywhere in the world, in one stadium. However, in the Twin Cities, the other guys from Jersey outdid Bruce with their back to basics set up. For a brief moment, I truly felt like I was watching Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Dave Bryan, Tico Torres and Hugh McDonald introduce themselves to the world as first rate musicians whose point in life is to move their fans and give them a soundtrack for their lives that they can relate to. Like Springsteen before them, their songs are really about everyday people and their hopes, dreams and struggles and the eternal search for the land of hope and dreams. Maybe we'll find it and maybe we won't, however, the point is that we never stop searching. After doubting the genuineness of my five friends from Jersey, they proved to me that they are still about shaking the foundation of rock 'n roll.
We walk through life forging relationships with people we hope will stand beside us through all of our life experiences. Sometimes these people let us down own and are not there for us when we truly need them. I guess if I ever give any advice to anyone in life, it is to keep that door open and give these people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we set our anticipation bar too high and they cannot live up to our expectations. We need to sit back, realize we all have limitations, along with our strengths and learn to accept and love each other for who we are today. However, these same people may come back and surprise us and exceed our hopes in the future. Life if short...life is now...never should we eliminate someone from our hearts, minds and souls over a small disagreement or money matters. My parents gave this advice to me while I was at a crossroads in my life. It was the best advice they ever gave me. Instead of writing off people whom I felt did not care, I had to come to the realization they too had lives full of questions for which there were no immediate answers. Like me, they were digging in the dirt as well looking for those answers. As I reflect back on that time, I am glad, I never shut any doors on those friendships. I'm fortunate; I am still friends' with many of these same people today. I am also glad I gave Bon Jovi the benefit of the doubt as they did prove to me that they could exceed my expectations when I least expect it. You never know when an old friend may do something unexpected for you. We all fall from grace from time to time; the key is to stand by our friends during those traumatizing times... this is truly what friendship, and life, is all about.
Like the wind run with me
Take my hand come with me
Those bastards ain't bringing us down
For all the dreams that died
And all of the tears they cried
If there's one thing I've learned
Life is now
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