The adrenaline is surging through 52,612 hyperactive Chicagoans as Bon Jovi tear through the classic sixties soul show stopper "Treat Her Right". Saying the stadium is in a state of ecstasy is a gross understatement, however, the show has now passed the 150-minute mark and as the song reaches its conclusion, the band takes their bows and disappeared into the darkness. While most thought the evening was over, the band reemerged from the dusky shadows to Hugh McDonald's fiery bass beat of "Keep The Faith". If the band had come out and performed just about any song, the audience would have been in a transported state; however, by breaking curfew and resurrecting their preeminent live song for a finale, it took the show into the realm of greatness. Just as the band had not missed a beat, neither did the crowd as their hands simultaneously thrust into the air during the "Faith" chorus. The superlative performance hit on all cylinders as band and fans stay emerged as one and the extended jam at the end forged the bands virtuosity into the hearts and minds of all 52,612 in attendance.
Faith: you know you're gonna live thru the rain
Lord you got to keep the faith
-"Keep The Faith"
"What's the deal with Bon Jovi?" That, ladies and gentlemen, is the most infamous and frequent question I get asked. Those of you who have been long time readers of mine can appreciate this comment as most of you can be put in two very clear and distinct categories; a) those who love Bon Jovi and b) those who hate Bon Jovi. To give a simple answer, I usually say that "Bon Jovi is my Beatles". In no way am I comparing them to the Fab Four, but merely pointing out the importance of Bon Jovi and how they are largely responsible for my love of music. I have followed this band closely and more religiously than any other artist dating back to 1987. Now, I'm in a unique situation because I'm a writer and a fan. While I believe strongly in supporting artists, especially when the press picks fights with them for no apparent reason, I also believe a true fan is one who does not put blind faith in them either. It's vital and important to question their motives, their business decisions and their music when it doesn't live up to expectations. There is a difference between being objective and being critical. I attempt to always be objective. I wouldn't be a good fan if I thought everything a particular artist did was brilliant and in short, while the rock n' roll era has had its share of artists many deem "untouchable", the truth is, no one is without fault...and that is OK. We're human and prone to errors. In fact, I believe that some missteps are necessary in order to create career defining music. The key to salvation is to learn the error of our ways and redeem ourselves; only then can the failure truly be put into perspective.
Over the last three years, much to the chagrin of some fans, I have often questioned Bon Jovi's business and artistic motives. I don't do this out of spite, but objectively in the hopes they may read what I write and digest it because deep down I want to see them evolve as artists and succeed. There are no words to express how I feel about this band. They often are not taken seriously largely due to the band's success and good looks. This is a shame, because at their core, I'd dare you to find me a better live band who works on the same worldwide scale. Only the Rolling Stones, U2 and Metallica can even come close. However, I felt the band has played it a little too safe since releasing "Crush". Don't get me wrong, they made a few solid albums and have performed many fine shows; I just felt the desire and fire within wasn't as strong as it was back in 2000. In this writer's eyes, I viewed the band as students who were sliding by with a solid B average when I knew they were capable of an A. They have achieved more success in the last six years than I even think Jon Bon Jovi ever imagined. When you have climbed to the top of the mountain and found a treasure of riches not once, not twice but multiple times...the hunger, fire and desire can't be as intense as when you had nothing. However, just because the 'fire inside' doesn't burn as brightly does not mean they can't still seduce, slam, supercharge and spellbind an audience.
When the lights dimmed at Soldier Field this past July, with the alluring Chicago skyline in the background, the magical marriage of band and fan took over and even the tired and grumpy cynic in me began to go away. When the band opened the tour in November of 2005, they had not quite found their footing with the new material. This time around, Chicago witnessed a band who delivered a triumphant knockout. The band, minus Jon, took to the stage and built tension as they merely teased the audience with a building jam which led into Richie's surging opening riff to "Last Man Standing". Emerging from the far right of the stage was the blue-eyed rock god willing the entire audience into the palm of his hand with a million dollar smile as he made his way to the ellipse beyond the pit. As I turned around to see Jon's back, what I witnessed was far more magical than any of the lyrics being sung; I saw the entire football stadium projecting anarchic zeal.
The first hour of the show was seamless as the band segued effortlessly from one song to the next "You Give Love A Bad Name", "Story of My Life", "Runaway", "In These Arms" and "Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars". Old or new, the songs appeared to resonate with everyone as no momentum was lost from hits of yesterday into the songs of today. There were rumors circling at the end of the European tour of a rift between the band members which was yet another reason I did not look forward to this show. Would they call it in delivering a standard performance that elevated only the guy who has spent ten hours drinking? The dual harmony of Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's vocals epitomized what can occur when this band stands as one. They are individually enormous talents but together, they are colossal and indefatigable. The playful interaction between the charismatic front man and the soulful shredder were on full display for everyone to see proving that the rumors of tension were just that...rumors. I've seen this band enough over the years to know when it's forced and when it's pure, genuine and real. Tonight was as real as it gets. Six songs into the show, the stadium was rocking harder and louder than any of the times I've seen the Rolling Stones perform there and let me tell you, the Stones have never gone easy on me. As the band tore through the deep cut "Complicated", I realized that the bands catalog is better than anyone gives it credit for. Not everyone who straps on a guitar is going to forge a new and novel sound that makes critics wet themselves. Music is all about connection. I don't care if you feel connected to Jagger's swaying hips, Toby Keith's southern attitude, Bono's message and meaning or the aura of Marilyn Manson. Deep inside each of us there is a loner who feels connected to a particular artist and on this particular night, 52,612 people felt that connection.
Over the last few tours, certain concert staples have grown tiresome, but the band reinvigorated them once again with some fresh arrangements. Sometimes it's the little things that count...the brief pause before a chorus kicks in, an extended solo, a reprise or even a cover version thrown in the middle of the song. "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" featured a double shot of the latter as the band ripped through "Dancing In The Streets" and a thrusting "Jumpin' Jack Flash". These two brief moments gave an otherwise bland concert staple a fresh burst of energy. "Shout" was briefly reprised for the stadium leg, however, it was there more as a teaser than a "be all end all" portion of the show. "Born To Be My Baby" also featured an aggressive arrangement as the band teased the audience holding back right before the final chorus and then giving a raucous reprise at the end. Teasing the audience and building anticipation by holding a note may seem like a no brainier, but you would be surprised how few acts actually do this. The box set treasure "The Radio Saved My Life Tonight" proved the band can take a largely unknown song to the crowd, perform it with conviction and make the audience embrace it like a long lost friend whom you haven't seen in years. The acts that can accomplish this in a live environment are few and far between.
The radio saved my life tonight
That old song that the DJ played made me feel alright
I made it home by my dashboard light
The radio saved my life tonight
-"The Radio Saved My Life Tonight"
On paper the song selection may appear to be unimpressive, but the vitality with which the material was performed and the vivacious response of the crowd was a marriage made in heaven. While more adventurous material from the "These Days" album and songs like "Next 100 Years" and "Dry County" were left on the sidelines, there were no idle moments. Even the bluesy ballad, "I'll Be There For You", proved to be a gut wrenching, soul extending moment no one could forget. Sambora's vocals are a hidden secret weapon and I'm still waiting for him to show up either handling lead vocal duties or sharing them with Jon on a future Bon Jovi album. This was a song that hit on all cylinders...the singing, the way his hands gently stroked the frets on his guitar and the sight of a sold out stadium completely enraptured was something I'm sure Muddy Waters was watching from up above the Chicago skyline and smiling down on. Artists find solace in their art and if they're lucky it transforms and heals the frustration, disillusionment and pain that life brings. On this particular evening Mr. Sambora had 52,612 fans right there with him.
Two new songs, "Have A Nice Day" and "Who Says You Can't Go Home" have become centerpieces of the main set as they are able to encapture beautifully why Bon Jovi is still a relevant force in the music industry. The album's title track for the entire tour was one of the evening's defining moments and at Soldier Field it was no different. "Who Says You Can't Go Home" was equally as powerful as it's now become a full fledged anthem for the band. The entire stadium sang along with every word proving that this band is still capable of creating hit songs twenty-years after "Slippery When Wet". During the main set closer of "Livin' On A Prayer", the stadium was shaking...literally. The only song I have ever seen receive such a resounding roar was "Where The Streets Have No Name" on U2's ZOO TV and Popmart world tours. Not even "Satisfaction" or "Born To Run" took off the way "Prayer" did on this night. I've always despised stadium shows. There are no advantages to them; however, Bon Jovi proved that a gig does not have to be small or intimate to be extraordinary (Please note: This is not an endorsement of stadium tours in the future). As if the main set was not full of glorious harmonies, the encore took the evening to unprecedented heights with the blazing "Just Older", "Wanted Dead or Alive" (with one of the most astounding guitar solos of the rock era), "Blood On Blood", "It's My Life" and "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night". No song lost momentum, as they seductively finessed the audience into a blissfully magical state.
People may snicker at Bon Jovi and not take them seriously, but their songs still resonate. Bon Jovi may not be everyone's Beatles, but their material connects deeply with their audience and this is why, when they choose to be, they are the liveliest, most entertaining, energetic and fun live band on the planet. What Bon Jovi has always been able to do better than anyone else is connect the music to the fan and the fan to the music. As clichÃ© ridden as these songs are they provide hope, comfort and faith to millions around the world and that is nothing to be ashamed of. When the last note was struck last July at Soldier Field, I had nothing left to give the band and I knew they had nothing left to give me. They came, they saw 52,612 faces and well...I think you know how the story ends...
I've seen a million faces and I've rocked them all
-"Wanted Dead Or Alive"
Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door.