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Band Concert Review
Bon Jovi: Chicago Night #2...For Better Or Worse?

Bon Jovi: Chicago Night #2...For Better Or Worse?

By Anthony Kuzminski
Photos by Rob Grabowski

United Center-Chicago, IL
November 5, 2005: Night 2 of 2

I had not planned on writing on Bon Jovi’s second night in Chicago, but I actually had quite a few requests asking if I would give my perspective on if there were any differences between the first and second nights and since my review was mixed from the first night, I figured why not? Night two in Chicago found the band hitting the stage with much more aggression and passion. The majority of the songs were the same over the two nights, which is a shame considering how many people attended both nights and given the size of Bon Jovi’s catalog. They should be giving more of themselves and prove the cynics wrong that they are more than the world’s most popular jukebox. Just like the first night, “Last Man Standing” fell flat as an opener once again. This should be the bands best opening concert number since “I Believe”, instead the tempo of the tune falls flat and why is Jon Bon Jovi playing an acoustic guitar when there are two others plugged in? After “Last Man Standing”, before the band kicked into “You Give Love A Bad Name”, Jon Bon Jovi really took a moment and worked the crowd up- demanding their attention and their voices. In between the opener and “Bad Name” Jon was a bit more fervent in getting the crowd to rock out as he went to extra mile to ensure everyone was on their feet and applauding. This did not occur the first night and I’ll admit it; there was more of a drive in the man this time around. Once he felt appeased by the reception the Chicago crowd gave back, he led the band through the ever faithful “Bad Name”, “Everyday”, “Born To Be My Baby” (skipping the extended jam tonight), “Story of My Life” (with some nice interplay between Jon and Richie) a loud and rocking “Radio Saved My Life Tonight”, “Runaway” (which received a raucous reception), the Beach Boys influenced “Last Cigarette” and the tear the walls down anthem “It’s My Life”.

Don’t get me wrong, song for song there was not a single change from the first night, but there was more of a force and resolve in the presentation of the material on the second night. The four song acoustic set; “Always”, “I’ll Be There For You”, “Lay Your Hands On Me” and “Blaze of Glory” I enjoyed once again, but I could feel those around me grow restless as the band did not deliver faithful renditions. The first three were in the vein of the versions of “This Left Feels Right”. While it’s interesting to see this material and I give them props for trying something different, the comments I heard during and after the concert were brutal from those I spoke to. However, whether or not I feel this is the best light to perform these songs in, the band is taking a huge chance here by not “calling it in”. I personally loved the version of “Blaze” (which had some added flavor by the ultra talented and underappreciated percussionist/keyboard Jeff Kazee) which had the crowd keyed up as Jon made his way to a makeshift stage in the 100 level. I will admit, “Always” and “I’ll Be There For You” doesn’t come close to live performances I have seen before, but the adventure in seeing them was interesting. If they choose to keep this alternative acoustic set, they should try and switch up two or three of the songs nightly to keep it fresh.

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” kicked in as Jon made his way back to the main stage and while the band was waiting for him Richie Sambora and guitarist Bobbie Bandiera had some nice interplay between one another as they traded riffs off from one another. If anything, I would like to see Bobby get a little more of the spotlight here and there as he is a monster talent. I give kudos to Jon and the band for bringing two immense talents on the road with them (Jeff and Bobby). From there on out, it was a greatest hits set as the band tore through “Sleep”, “Bad Medicine”, the arms in the air anthem “Raise Your Hands”, new single “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and the roof raising “Livin’ On A Prayer”. Towards the end of this set the band really hit their stride. This is the band I know and love and beginning with “Raise Your Hands”, they gave their all and received it back from the crowd. The hysteria within the arena was quite the sight to see. However, in the past, Bon Jovi shows have been this way from the first note performed. I was just surprised it took a solid sixteen songs to really take the show to the next level. However, when it hit this level, I felt like I was seeing the band at their best at this given time.

There is a marriage between new and old material and if melded well, fan and band walk away happy. The marriage of songs performed over the two nights in Chicago is still in the dating stage and it will be exciting to see the band develop the set list over time. I guess my issue is when you’re paying $100+ a ticket, you should be delivering an "A" grade show from night one. What so many artists overlook is that it’s important to leave a unique fingerprint on each show. There should be a moment or a song where the fan can walk away saying pointing to something unique that identifies that show alone. Even on the “Bounce” tour where some set lists became static, I still felt there were moments that stand out in my mind; “I’d Die For You” in Detroit, “The Distance” performed acoustically in Columbus and opening the show with “Heroes” in Indianapolis.

As good as the last few songs were during the second night in Chicago, I kept hearing a voice in the back of my head. It was Jon Bon Jovi’s. It was reminiscing of interviews the man has given over the years where he said he has no desire to be a band that is no longer relevant who relies solely on their hits to sell tickets. I’m paraphrasing here…but if you want a clear explanation, pick up the “Crush Tour” DVD and he makes a comment about he has no desire to be one of these acts. With a mere five songs off “Have A Nice Day” performed and even fewer deep album cuts (non-singles), I can’t help but feel that they have already fallen into this trap. The joy of seeing a band in concert evolves around the connection the performer has with the audience and most importantly, seeing something you otherwise would not normally see. Every fan should walk away from a concert saying “Hey, that was the only time on the tour the band played “x, y, z”. Also, I admire the band for trying to work the “TLFR” material into the acoustic set, however, past incarnations of these songs acoustically worked better. Or even better, why not throw socially relevant tunes like “Something To Believe In”, “Fear”, or “Next 100 Years” into the set with a spin on them?

One major distraction throughout the show was the number of people sitting in their seats. I’m not talking about the people in the nosebleeds, but people in the third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh rows. These were the seats that were sold via Ticketbastard auctions. I don’t agree with the legal scalping that occurs, however, if an artist chooses to partner with them on this, who am I to say they should or should not do this. However, these people are sitting in the midst of insanity and frankly it’s frustrating to see people sitting in seats while true fans are more deserving are sitting in nosebleeds or do not have tickets at all. My theory, if you want to auction tickets like these off, give these people good 100 level seats. Can you imagine being a performer giving your all and there are a slew of people five rows in sitting on their hands?

Another distraction is the fan pits on either sides of the stage. When the band introduced this on the “These Days” tour, it was a treat to see them embrace their fans as they sat at on stage bars. They brought it back on the “Crush” tour and have used it ever since. At this point, I wonder why? They give these passes away to radio stations who do not play their new songs and more times than not, the road crew groupies get thrown in the pits right from the beginning and their cattiness usually does not allow for these potential fans a chance to see the band up close since the groupies hog the space up front.

If the band wants to use these pits to the best of their abilities, why not give these seats to the handicapped people who come and see these shows. All too often the handicap sections are at the back of the arena and offer a lousy view of the stage. They should have these sections reserved for those with handicaps instead of radio contest winners who will most likely never see another Bon Jovi concert again or buy another Bon Jovi album.

All in all, night two in Chicago was much better than night one, but of the dozens of Bon Jovi concerts I have seen over the years, these are closer to the bottom than the top. In all honesty, aside from Jon heading into the audience during “Blaze of Glory” I did not feel that I witnessed anything extraordinary. The band’s precision of the songs was spot on; it’s just the manner in which they were delivered that left me cold. I felt like I was watching a Vegas act run through the motions merely to pick up a paycheck. I see Bon Jovi as children of mine. When you send your children off to school and you have a really bright child who continually brings home C’s, it’s frustrating. Sure, they are getting by and passing, but when you know they could bring home A’s and B’s if they just applied themselves a bit, it breaks your heart. Bon Jovi can run through this set with near perfection, however, there has to be more behind the performance than precision. It’s important to put heart into it. During the last six songs, I felt their hearts beating…but that heartbeat was not as throbbing as it has been in the past. In fact, this marks my sixth Bon Jovi show in a row where I felt the band wanted the show to end as quickly as possible.

Night two was a big step over night one, however, I still did not feel it was the best it could have been. Just because the Friday night performance was lackluster does not mean that I’m going to give them a pass for Saturday night. It was a good solid show. If I were giving it a grade, I’d give it a solid “B”. However, when you have as much talent, intelligence and soul on stage the way Bon Jovi does, I expect them to go the distance.

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