By Ed Masley | AZCentral.com
It’s been 30 years since “Runaway,” Bon Jovi’s breakthrough single, and the New Jersey rockers are still going strong. In March, they returned to the top of the charts with a new album, “What About Now.” And Tuesday, April 23, they added what certainly looked to be another 19,000 faces to the list of those they’ve seen and rocked at Glendale’s Jobing.com Arena.
Richie Sambora was not in attendance. He left the tour in early April. But although his absence may have made it feel a little less like a Bon Jovi show, it definitely sounded right, with Phil X filling in and recreating Sambora’s more memorable solos, of which there are many, note-for-note enough to have captured the essence.
There was no “Runaway” in a set that also did not find a home for the Beatlesque power ballad “I’ll Be There For You,” one of four Bon Jovi singles to have topped the Hot 100 in their ’80s prime. But with 12 albums from which to build the perfect setlist, something’s gotta give. And for the most part, they chose wisely, filling a two-and-a-half-hour set with many of the highlights of their 30 years in rock, from “You Give Love a Bad Name,” to “Because We Can” and “What About Now,” the singles from their latest album.
They opened with another track from this year’s model, a Springsteenesque anthem called “That’s What the Water Made Me” whose haunting central riff recalled the majesty of David Bowie’s “Heroes” — you know, as Bon Jovi would have written it.
At the conclusion of that first song, Jon Bon Jovi shouted, “This ain’t television, baby. Get up out of your seats.” And with that, they launched directly into “You Give Love a Bad Name,” followed by another ’80s classic, “Born to Be My Baby.” The new songs definitely held their own, in part because there’s an obvious through line from the optimistic spirit of a “Livin’ on a Prayer” to such crowd-pleasing highlights of the new millennium as “It’s My Life” and “What About Now.”
They indulged their love of the British Invasion with the loopy, sugar-coated pop of “Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen from Mars.” An epic “Keep the Faith” emerged as a mid-show highlight complete with bursts of “Shaft” guitar and Jon Bon Jovi channeling his inner Jagger on maracas. The singer left the stage to take it down a notch or two from “Keep the Faith” with back-to-back ballads, “(You Want to) Make a Memory” and “Bed of Roses,” performed on a runaway that extended into the front rows.
An animated front man, Bon Jovi was fully committed to playing to the back rows — striking poses, doing jumping jacks and jazz hands, encouraging fans to raise their hands as high as his on “Raise Your Hands” and shadow boxing. At times, his moves were almost Jaggeresque. And that’s before he announced that he needed “a little bit of my Jagger swagger” and unleashed a spot-on imitation while leading his bandmates in a raucous “Start Me Up” in the middle of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (which also included a detour through Detroit for the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street”).
Bon Jovi said he wouldn’t talk much. But he talked enough to share an anecdote about how he was sitting in a parking lot outside a Circle K here in the Valley when he got the news that he’d just topped the album charts — again — with that new album. He also thanked the crowd for their friendship, kindness, support and patience and talked about putting another quarter in the jukebox, turning the volume up to 11 and seeing just what happens.
The concert built to a crowd-pleasing climax when they followed “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” with another ’80s singalong, “Bad Medicine,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” a song the singer introduced by saying “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to say it. This one’s for all the cowboys.” They kept the party going with their highest-charting single of this century, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” then followed through with a truly explosive rendition of “Have a Nice Day” before ending the proper set the only way they could, with a triumphant “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
The encore was subdued but sweet, an understated “Always” followed by the scrappy country-rock of a spirited “I Love This Town.”
“That’s What the Water Made Me”
“You Give Love a Bad Name”
“Born to Be My Baby”
“Raise Your Hands”
“Whole Lot of Leavin’ ”
“It’s My Life”
“Because We Can”
“What About Now”
“Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen from Mars”
“We Got It Going On”
“Keep the Faith”
“(You Want to) Make a Memory”
“Bed of Roses”
“Last Man Standing”
“We Weren’t Born to Follow”
“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
“Dancing in the Street”
“Start Me Up”
“Wanted Dead or Alive”
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
“Have a Nice Day”
“Livin’ on a Prayer”
“I Love This Town”