Live Review: Bon Jovi drives well-oiled concert machine into Vancouver

By Francois Marchand (Vancouver Sun)

If you wanted to know what a band with over 2,700 concerts under its belt is worth, you had to be at Rogers Arena Wednesday night, when New Jersey’s prodigal sons Bon Jovi kicked off the third North American leg of their Because We Can tour with a gig that proved they still rank among the best arena performers around.

With a set list spanning 30 years and comprising close to 25 songs, there was a little bit of everything for everyone.

Over the past three decades, there have been many transformative moments for Bon Jovi.

First there was the ’80s hair metal of Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, followed by the mature ’90s pop rock era of Keep The Faith and Cross Road (and later Crush and Bounce), and in the ’00s the country crossover momentum shift of Have A Nice Day and Lost Highway.

The band’s latest effort What About Now, released this spring, became Bon Jovi’s third consecutive album to enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1.

While not necessarily their most critically acclaimed, What About Now combined all the signature Bon Jovi trademarks — anthemic choruses, heart-tugging lyrics, country-inflected patriotism and slick pop appeal — that fans new and old have come to love.

But the live experience is where Bon Jovi have always shined.

With a stage presentation that makes full use of the entire arena without resorting to artifice or flashy gimmicks (no giant LCD screens or visual trickery here, although the moving light rigs are beyond compare), there is rarely a bad seat in the house at a Bon Jovi gig.

As with Springsteen, sometimes sitting behind the stage or in the nosebleeds is arguably just as much (if not more) fun than leaning against the ramp at the front of the stage.

“This ain’t television, baby,” frontman Jon Bon Jovi said after opening cut What The Water Made Me, imploring the crowd to get up on its feet.

The crowd happily did so as the band launched into classics You Give Love A Bad Name and Raise Your Hands, the latter hopped up on curly haired keyboardist David Bryan’s big synth blasts. Totally ’80s.

The picture would have arguably been complete had veteran guitarist Richie Sambora been present for this one. Sambora, whose website still lists him as being on tour with Bon Jovi and links to Bon Jovi’s tickets page, was reportedly fired a few months ago due to a contract dispute.

The band has been mum on the subject, but the presence of replacement guitarist Phil Xenidis (Triumph, Methods of Mayhem) on stage Wednesday night spoke loud and clear.

Fans didn’t seem to mind.

Runaway finished an early era trifecta where the band glowed in all its former long-haired glory, Jon Bon Jovi struggling a little vocally, perhaps due to a mix that was a little too instrument heavy.

But it takes more than a slightly muddy mix to keep a band like Bon Jovi down, and they swiftly moved into a solid chunk of their more countrified material (Lost Highway, Whole Lot Of Leavin’), where Jon Bon Jovi found his comfort zone.

With backup players Bobby Bandiera (guitar), Hugh McDonald (bass) and Rich Scannella filling in for a waylaid Tico Torres on drums (Torres recently had surgery in Mexico for an appendectomy), Bon Jovi was as well-oiled as ever.

Jon Bon Jovi gave a dedication to young Langley fan Kaden Artemenko, who was featured in a story in The Province Wednesday morning, with the band performing cornerstone track It’s My Life in his honour and joking they could have used him as a replacement for Torres. (The kid is quite the drummer, apparently.) Sure, the new material didn’t fly as high as the band’s more well-known tunes, but there were more than a few dads busting a move during tour theme song Because We Can, while Jon Bon Jovi showed off a few shakes of his own atop the ramp at the back of the stage during We Got It Goin’ On.

At 51, the frontman is still quite nimble, though he spent much less time coursing the ramps as he did back in 2011 in the same venue.

The concert, save for the new material, was arguably not that much different from the band’s last Vancouver outing. (The acoustic break bringing the band to the front ramp with Bryan playing the accordion was also pretty much a carbon copy of the last show.) But you could do much worse than catch a band whose material, in all its various shades (from the folky Who Says You Can’t Go Home to the hard rocking Bad Medicine), still stands the test of time for multiple generations.