Live Review: Bon Jovi delivers an old-fashioned summertime rock party at MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

By Jim Beckerman (


It got wet, if not slippery, at the Bon Jovi show Thursday night in East Rutherford, as a  cloudburst finally erupted during the rocker’s second encore, “Wanted Dead or Alive.” 

But spirits weren’t dampened: not by the rain, and not, seemingly, by the absence of guitarist Richie Sambora, whose very public tiff with his 30-year musical soul mate Jon Bon Jovi has given the current “Because We Can” tour a somewhat bitter aftertaste. But like the rain, the crowds at MetLife Stadium seemed to take it in stride. “Nothing like taking a shower with 55,000 of your closest friends!” quipped Jon to the soggy but high-spirited crowd.

For all the sober political and social pronouncements on their latest album, “What About Now,” a recession-era header into Springsteen territory, the “Because We Can” tour is all about giving the crowd an old fashioned summertime rock-and-roll party. Bon Jovi and company will be back at the stadium Saturday.

It was pretty clear what they were up to from the get-go. First,here was the stage set: a terrific replica of a 1959 Buick Electra, with yard-wide headlights and a grill made out of 102 video screens. Immediately, we are in high school on the way to the malt shop — or perhaps, judging from the rear projections of highways and byways, a Kerouacian journey into the heart of America. Assuming the car runs, of course: Steam from the stage lights, wafting around the hood, left a suspicion that the engine had overheated.

Next there was the wonderful pump-priming opening set of the J. Geils Band, done high-octane soul-revue style, with Peter Wolf barking “Ain’t Nothin’ But a House Party” and pausing to take a swig out of what looked like a red wine bottle.

Then out came Jon Bon Jovi himself — toothy smile like a piano keyboard and his dress Captain America casual: stars and stripes over denim. Launching into the set opener, “That’s What the Water Made Me,” he shouted: “Are you with me out there? If you’re with me, get out of your seat!”

And they did. They got out of their seats. They pumped their fists in the air during the fist-pumping songs (“It’s My Life.”). They waved their arms back and forth during the arms-waving-back-and-forth songs (“Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars”). They lit up their iPhones and waved them around on command, turning the stadium into a grotto of fireflies. The audience was with them all the way, as hit followed hit, anthem followed anthem: “Because We Can,” “What About Now,” “We Got It Goin’ On,” “Keep the Faith.” They cheered when, during the song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a series of projected images showed shore towns devastated by Sandy: Brielle, Sea Bright, Highlands, Asbury Park. “Oh my god!” shrieked one fan, as — presumably — her town flashed on the screen.

The crowd went crazy when, at various points, Jon did splits, jumping jacks, and mimicked Mick Jagger’s rooster strut during a mashup of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” “Start Me Up” and “Pretty Woman.”

It’s hard to argue with any of this. First pumping, hand-clapping sing-along rock and roll is what a stadium show is all about, and Bon Jovi — now a 30-year-old band, and long past their hair-band salad days — delivers it all expertly, and without apology.

It’s good to see all the familiar faces on the JumboTron: Tico Torres clobbering the drums, David Bryan adding his honky-tonk piano licks on “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” Hugh McDonald holding down the bass.

Connoisseurs may chafe a bit at the absence of Sambora’s lead guitar. But his place is capably filled by veteran shore rocker Bobby Bandiera (who harmonizes nicely on “Pretty Woman”) and Phil X, who has short-but-knockout solos in “Always” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The fact that these guys are in the band seems to be news to the JumboTron, by the way: they barely appear on screen, and then mostly in close-ups of fingers playing guitars.