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Band Concert Review
Bon Jovi: Welcome To Wisconsin-Part II

Bon Jovi: Welcome To Wisconsin-Part II

By Anthony Kuzminski

Come see a living, breathing spectacle
Only seen right here
It's your last chance in this lifetime
-“Last Man Standing”

Sixty seconds into Bon Jovi’s Milwaukee concert, chaos ensued and I found myself standing on my seat, in the fifth row no less, just trying to glimpse a silhouette at the back of the arena. Men and women were in a cataclysmic state as the noise barometer probably broke records for the Bradley Center. As I gazed to the back of the arena, I saw Jon Bon Jovi rise above the soundboard with an acoustic guitar strapped around his shoulders. As he pulled his guitar closer he began to strum away singing the words, “Come see a living breathing spectacle, only seen right here”, those very words hit home as I could feel how special and unique the power of live performance truly is. As “Last Man Standing” (written for Bob Dylan) kicked into full gear, the band’s blue collar effort took the show to a level of lunacy few artists could capture on even their best nights. Five mere words into the first song, this crowd qualified as one of the most intense I’ve ever witnessed. I began to think about the one hundred-plus shows I had seen over the last two years and only two crowds stand out that were as manic; Green Day and Metallica. I saw U2 in the same arena four months earlier and the crowd did not reach this level of lunacy until “Where The Streets Have No Name”. While the Milwaukee U2 crowd was limp, for Bon Jovi they were vivacious, animated and spirited.

Surprisingly, it was not the warhorses that awed me on this winter night, but the songs from the band’s most recent release, “Have A Nice Day”. I like “Have A Nice Day” but I don’t feel it holds up to the bands best albums. However, the performances of “Story of My Life”, “Novocaine” (bassist Hugh McDonald get to shine on this one) and the clichéd “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” are exceptional in concert. The band knows this material like the back of their hand and has elevated it over their studio counterparts with the mere conviction of their performances. There may be zero originality in a song like “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”, however, Bon Jovi’s strength has always been able to take the best of their influences and forge their own unique radio-ready music. “Home” is what Bon Jovi does best, especially with its extended ending which is the stuff of legend. As the sold out crowd sang every word with swaying arms, I realized that Bon Jovi, when they want to be, can arguably be the greatest live band in the world. The evening’s preeminent moment was the one-two punch of a cover and new classic. Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” is one of this generations greatest rock songs and Bon Jovi is utilizing it as an introduction for “Have A Nice Day”. “I Won’t Back Down” is performed in a stripped manner with a small acoustic guitar riff, some exceptional slide guitar by Bobby Bandiera and some harmony vocals by Richie Sambora. As the song ends, Richie slashes the opening riff of “Have A Nice Day” and at this point, the crowd went into a frenzy that not even “It’s My Life” or “Livin’ On A Prayer” could touch. Right before the chorus kicked in and Jon spurts “When the world gets in my face”, Richie could be seen shooting his hand into the air, giving the bird no less, as the crowd didn’t just sing, but screamed the chorus back to the band. Bon Jovi can still fill arenas today due to the brilliant marketing moves of Jon Bon Jovi. He never settles for second place and his determination and belief in himself, his band and his music is why Bon Jovi is still relevant today. However, the soul of the band lies in the soulful shredder standing to Jon’s right. Richie Sambora is the guy who keeps Jon honest and he is the one that brings heart to every performance. On the surface “Have A Nice Day” may appear to be nothing more than a knock off of “It’s My Life”, but after witnessing this performance, I realize it’s cut from the same cloth as “Life”, but that should not matter as the performance was so undeniably compelling, I couldn’t help but be awed by the band’s willpower.

Earlier in the tour, I questioned the band’s need to radically change up some of their best known songs for an acoustic set. Tonight, I became a believer instead of a cynic. “Blaze of Glory” is still delivered with force from the crowd while “Bed of Roses” has been given a much needed new spin as Jon Bon Jovi interacts with close to fifty different fans as he makes his way back to the main stage. However, it was “I’ll Be There For You” that soared. Instead of a slow and emotionless performance, I saw the band give a positive spin on one of their biggest hits with the help of keyboardist Jeff Kazee. Kazee’s mid-song solo gave me goose bumps as it gave the song a Beatles-esque feel. Kazee is a colossal talent who is used to performing anything and everything with the impulsive Southside Johnny, so it’s good to see him add new dimensions to such well established pop classics. The arrangement of the song has loosened up allowing fans to have their arms in the air singing in sync at the end. What was a weak arrangement in November has evolved into a highlight of the tour.

The insanity inside the Bradley Center continued until the encore, where the show hit a stumbling block. A pair of new numbers, “Welcome To Wherever You Are” and “Bells of Freedom” were played to the sounds of silence throughout the arena. All of the main set thrust was lost as over half of the arena, including many of those in the first few rows, took their seats. I couldn’t help but think how both of these tracks would be better suited in a stripped down approach. Every show should have wild cards, but it’s better for them to appear mid-set so the show does not lose momentum. “Blood On Blood” and “Wanted Dead Or Alive” almost revitalized the once frenzied crowd, however, just like in Madison ten weeks earlier, the band called the evening short leaving the stage when there were two other songs on the set list. The main set of this show was one of the most frenzied I have ever attended, but the encore killed the buzz leading into it. After seeing a few hundred live shows over the last few years, I know the key to lasting memories relies on beginning and ending your shows with songs with a jolt which will resonate with the fan long after the house lights have gone on. Even if the encore was lacking, the Milwaukee show substantiated that when Bon Jovi wants to, they can captivate a crowd as well as any other act on this planet. This is the highest compliment I can ever give a live act. Just days earlier, I was fortunate to see the Rolling Stones rock, roll and control 32,000 fans over two nights in Chicago. After the second night, I walked away realizing that even a band with forty-plus years of history behind them is still evolving and pushing themselves. I believe Bon Jovi has the abilities to take their rock n’ roll circus as far as the Stones one day. Unfortunately, the Milwaukee concert ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Let’s just hope they are saving the biggest bang for a rumored summer stadium tour.