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Bon Jovi: Welcome To Wisconsin-Part I

Bon Jovi: Welcome To Wisconsin-Part I

By Anthony Kuzminski

Madison, WI: The Kohl Center
November 16, 2005

I knocked on every door, on every dead end street
Looking for forgiveness, what's left to believe?
-"Have A Nice Day”

Winter arrived late to the Midwest but when it hit, it dropped 30 degrees in one day, as my good friend and photographer Rob Grabowski and I made our way to Madison, WI where it was approaching single digits. I met Rob almost 9 years ago at a record show where we were both seeking out Bon Jovi bootlegs. Since then we went from trading bootlegs to travelling across the country writing and shooting about the bands and artists we love. However, the band we still hold nearest and dearest to our hearts and travel the most for is Bon Jovi. We had made our way from Chicago through the coldest weather of the fall in mid-November to catch Bon Jovi two weeks into their “Have A Nice Day” tour. As we ate some spicy tuna rolls right before Bon Jovi’s show at the Kohl Center, Rob looked at me and asked a vital and important question; “Do you think Jon Bon Jovi still enjoys performing every night?” I sat there and had to really think about that question. Part of me wanted to say “yes” and the other part, “no”. Since Rob and I trekked to Asbury Park, NJ to catch a warm up charity gig Bon Jovi was putting on in June of 2000, we have traveled far and wide to see the Jersey Brotherhood take their circus on the road. Every show had something special and unique to offer, until 2003. In ’03, I arguably saw three of the best concerts I had ever witnessed by any act (Chicago 3/1, Alpine Valley 7/12 and Minneapolis 7/15). However, I also saw three or four shows, where I felt the band was merely running through the motions and provided nothing more than “corporate rock”. Now, when you tour and play night after night, it’s inevitable that there will be some off nights, especially when you have people, like me, seeing close to a dozen shows on a tour. There are numerous factors that come into play when reviewing the quality of a performance…the city, the sound of the arena, weather, the crowd, the mood of the band and dozens of other factors. I’ve seen U2, Springsteen, Kiss, Madonna and dozens others give performances that were less than stellar. It’s inevitable. However, when you start to see a few in a row, like we had in Chicago two weeks earlier, you begin to question the passion behind the performances. So, as all of that flashed through my head, I looked at Rob and simply said “I don’t know”.

When I saw Bon Jovi open their world tour in Chicago two weeks before the Madison show, I left with mixed feelings. Obviously these guys are great musicians, but I left feeling that the shows were not up to par with their usual performances. Therefore, I went to Madison with a passing interest thinking this would be one of the last times I saw the band on their “Have A Nice Day” tour. When the lights dimmed and the band emerged from beneath their colossal Hi-Definition screen, there was a raging drive in the band’s execution which was missing from the Chicago gig two weeks earlier.

“Last Man Standing”, “You Give Love A Band Name”, “Complicated”, “Born To Be My Baby” and “Story of My Life” were performed in succession, segueing into one another while the pacing and passion during these numbers were nothing but exceptional. It was as if a fire had been lit inside each of the band members as they were perfectly in sync with one another and the crowd. Now let me say, the Madison crowd was by no means an easy crowd. As I took the arena in, I could see numerous people sitting in their seats, however, the band kept pushing each song to a higher octave almost daring them to get off their asses and enjoy the show.

In my review of the Chicago shows, I had thrown out some suggestions to the band, and surprisingly, whether it’s coincidence or not, a few of them were taken and put into reality. “Sleep When I’m Dead” has been moved up in the set, giving it a fresh perspective and helping the band keep momentum as they switch up classics with new songs. The biggest surprise for me was to see the inclusion of “Good Lovin’” before “Bad Medicine”. The band had not performed the song this way since 1992 and it miraculously shows up in the set after my review was published. Coincidence or not, it worked and gave a rather tired arena rocker a fresh facelift.

The only slow portion of the entire show was the acoustic set. While by no means a buzz kill, the band is performing the songs in radical rearrangements. I’m not sure if it’s for better or worse. However, I feel this spot would be better suited with more straightforward arrangements. Why not throw in some album tracks here; “Id’ Die For You”, “Diamond Ring”, “These Days”, “In These Arms”, “Something To Believe In”, “Misunderstood” or even “Everyday”. All of these numbers have worked wonderfully when performed in a stripped down fashion and I’d like to see them showcase these underrated songs in a different light. During “I’ll Be There For You”, I could feel the crowd wanting to completely lose it and shriek the sing-a-long towards the end, but they held back due to the nature of the arrangements. It’s a daring portion of the set and I give them credit for that, however, I feel the mini set would be better suited with album classics and even new material done in unembellished arrangements (“I Am”, “I Want To Be Loved”, “Welcome To Wherever You Are”) versus well known hits.

Two new songs that were elevated to a new level were the title track and “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”. Passion and perseverance have made these songs grow on me. While some new songs shine under the spotlights of the live experience and others falter, these two shine brighter than platinum records. Whatever my reservations are about the reworking of “Have A Nice Day” from its original recording in 2004, the band is a powerhouse when playing it live. It is played with the same determination the band gave “Keep The Faith” back in 1993 (By the way, where is “Faith”? No show should be performed without it).

“Livin’ On A Prayer” closed the main set with Jon giving it his all on stage when he decided to surge into the security area, right in front of the stage. As he came closer to the crowd he reached out to make contact with those in the first few rows. At one point, he was almost fully sprawled out across the entire first three rows. On the high of the audience, the band came back out for an encore and ran through the melodic gem “I Get A Rush” (from last year’s box set) which worked marvelously before segueing into “Just Older” and finally a explosive and extended “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” (one of the best versions of the song I’ve ever witnessed) and the finale of “Wanted Dead Or Alive”. As the band took their bows, the crowd was in a state of madness. I was hoping for one more tune, as I felt it would have taken the crowd to that next level where it went from being a great show to a legendary show. Sadly the band headed off stage. It’s too bad as one more song may have just garnered a few more lifetime fans. Either way, what a difference two weeks makes. The band went from looking like they needed another week of rehearsal to a band who has been touring for six solid months.

As I thought back to Rob’s question on the ride home, I could answer without any doubt, a resounding “Yes”. Jon was all over that stage and the million-dollar smile was there with no acting involved. There was nothing but pure elation gleaming off those pearly whites. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves in ways I had not seen since the early part of their summer tour in ’03. The pacing and execution of the set list was nearly flawless. One can only hope that they don’t settle into complacency, but continue to evolve the set as the tour moves on. As winter made its presence known in the Midwest, Bon Jovi made their presence known as they delivered a blistering performance worthy of the best I saw in 2005. Winter may have arrived to Wisconsin with single digit temperatures, but no one would have noticed inside the Kohl Center as the band was clearly smoking.

Part II in Milwaukee coming soon…