A Bon Jovial Tour
By Sarah Jayne, age 21, County Durham, England
After an adolescence spent in thrall to the lingerie-draped altars of the rock gods of ages past, the discovery that the Bon Jovi Live tour was coming to Europe was met with a muddle of violent enthusiasm and uncertainty. On one hand, a failure to match my pubescent fancies could well be devastating. Certainly, the task facing classic bands in creating new, relevant material is one that is riddled with minefields - a fact made uncomfortably apparent by any venture into The Red Hot Chili Peppers' latest offerings.
Indeed, the relevance of many classic Bon Jovi songs, such as "Runaway" and the now redundant "Living in Sin," was linked directly to generational tensions between the new youth and the rigid values of their pre-social revolution parents (both tracks are nevertheless well worth checking out, if only for their ingenious cheese value and the juxtaposition of sex and communion wafers in the latter's music video).
And then, of course, there's the rampant egotism one might expect from a band that has booked innumerable mammoth sell-out tours over the past thirty years.
On the other hand, how could I not see Jon Bon Jovi in the flesh and hazard a squeeze?
Reassuringly, Mr. Bon Jovi has razor sharp business acumen, and ensures to play a wide variety of hits from across the years to suit fans new, old, and in-between. The concert was firmly underpinned by charismatic renditions of classics such as "Wanted Dead or Alive," "It's My Life," and "Keep the Faith," supplied with vigorous maraca action, a medley of relatively obscure titles to make the aficionados smile, such as "Captain Crash" and "The Beauty Queen from Mars," a welcome return to their blues influences with a stirring cover of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," as well as a smattering of later hits, including "Lost Highway" and "We Weren't Born to Follow."
The band and choreography were seamless, and 'fan service' in the form of charming crowd engagement and energetic encores sent the throngs into a frenzy - but one couldn't help but be struck by the somewhat synthetic nature of the performance. "I like to think of it as taking a shower with 45,000 of my closest friends," Jon said alluringly, drenched by the Manchester summer rain. Sadly, it's probably safe to assume that, for a band that has performed more than 2,600 concerts over thirty years, he was either being somewhat liberal with the truth, or has something of a Messiah complex. Most probably a bit of both.
The band has found its niche and run with it, with lyrics focusing heavily on American symbols of freedom and nationhood - highways, cowboys, and, in an especially contrived move for one of the world's biggest touring acts, the working man. At best, these symbols are evocative; at worst, hackneyed. Certainly, Bon Jovi's songwriting and musical prowess cannot be underestimated (they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, to name but one of a few accolades - and Richie plays some mean guitar). However, such lyrical appeal to rock 'n' roll nonconformity seems insincere in light of an increasingly commercial and softened sound and aesthetic, with even a movement into country music. Even Bon Jovi's attempted critiques of American society are trite, with their love letter to the working man, "Work for the Working Man," failing to offer anything to Marx's 19th century manifesto.
And, while no one expects nuance or insight from a feel-good classic rock band, the band's understandable move away from the sex-fuelled vitality of years gone by, and less understandable foray into the political, has laid these weaknesses bare. It remains the case that they have been unable to pen a hit to rival their genre-defining classics of the 80s and 90s, almost completely discarding any blues rock associations in favour of insubstantial pop rock. But Bon Jovi Inc. has become a powerful brand, and, as long as it continues to produce music, I doubt many of the fans will care.
Certainly, if you're able to stifle your conscience, you'll find the quality of a live Bon Jovi performance to be justly outstanding. You might even come close to forgiving them for the past ten years.