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Review: Bon Jovi

Stadium rock downsized for one-off gig

  • 04/11/2009
  • Rodrigo Davies
Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi are probably the band most responsible for carving pop-metal’s air punch into the history of mainstream music.

So harnessing that euphoria and familiarity in front of just a few hundred rather than a stadium-full was never going to be an easy task, even though it was an audience of fans and friends at the BBC Radio Theatre.

But despite some crowd-pleasing nods to the past it's clear that these days the New Jersey band are channelling their blue collar credentials rather than harking back to perm rock.

Indeed, although the haircut memories and karaoke staples make them feel like pop relics it’s worth pointing out that they’ve since tapped into the country heartland in America at least – scoring their third number one album with Lost Highway.

It’s now questionable whether European audiences – who stuck with the band longer than Americans in the first place, and who've grown up with them will welcome a slower tempo and a political message.

Politics is avowedly a theme of their eleventh album The Circle, and more serious sounding tracks like When We Were Beautiful and probable next single Superman Tonight underlined the fact that they’re now closer to Springsteen than they ever were Van Halen.

Work for the Workin’ Man was the one obvious example of Bon Jovi harnessing some truly retro rolling basslines and guitar histrionics a la Livin’ on a Prayer – but that also punches air in the name of politics rather than romance.

Sure, when Jon Bon dropped his guitar and employed some rather nonchalant dance moves, it was easy to flash back to his days as the housewives’ favourite and the impact of You Give Love a Bad Name and finale Dead or Alive as rock anthems has scarcely faded at all.

The one surprise of the night was Livin’ on a Prayer, reworked around the arid twang of acoustic guitars that epitomised their Keep the Faith period. It was all the more gratifying given this a band evidently born to play stadiums rather than rooms.

Indeed, although we weren’t treated to back to back guitar duels, the band still showed they’ve more than enough conviction to summon the collective nostalgia of twenty thousand a night in their upcoming O2 residency in London – and in many ways, that will be the most appropriate test of their powers.

Tellingly, when Jon Bon gave a playful shake of his now tamed mane at the end of the gig, there wasn’t a jot of sweat on his brow.

Set list:
We Weren’t Born to Follow
Who Says You Can’t Go Home
You Give Love a Bad Name
Whole Lot of Leavin’
Livin’ on a Prayer
When We Were Beautiful
It’s My Life
Superman Tonight
Lost Highway
Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night
Dead or Alive

Bon Jovi’s Radio Theatre gig will be played in full on Radio 2 on November 14th.

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