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December 09, 2005

Heart, soul and hair

The boys in Bon Jovi were the same as ever Tuesday night at Mellon Arena -- just older.

In fact, the song "Just Older" set the stage for a funny unrehearsed moment. Guitarist Richie Sambora strode to frontman Jon Bon Jovi's microphone to add vocal harmonies on lines about standing shoulder to shoulder and sharing the sort of secrets that only friends can. When he leaned in, Bon Jovi accidentally sent Sambora's pink, feather-accented hat awkwardly tumbling from his head. After the song, Bon Jovi told Sambora, "It's a good thing you're not Tim McGraw."

Rather than just having a laugh at the expense of the balding country star, Bon Jovi also used the moment to sum up his band circa 2005: "We've still got heart, soul and a full head of hair. It's a good thing."

Age did seem to be a mere number for the pop-rock kings of Jersey. Rather than seeming like a bid for relevance, the six new tunes Bon Jovi dropped bristled with energy. "Story of My Life" combined stop/start rhythms with a catchy chorus while the single "Have a Nice Day" caught fire when Sambora played a fleet, tough solo on his twin-necked Telecaster. An encore of "Last Cigarette" featured a vocal breakdown in homage to the Beach Boys, displaying the band's vocal chops and deep roots in all manner of popular American music.

While the fans were receptive to the new songs, they clearly came to revel in the past. Bon Jovi didn't disappoint, spanning the catalog from the group's first hit, "Runaway," to their comeback of sorts from 2000, "It's My Life." Highlights included an especially funky version of "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" during which Bon Jovi danced with two young women. After the song he guessed that their ages were 6 and 26, then declared those to be his two favorite numbers. "I'll Be There For You" stood out, too, as Sambora and Bon Jovi sang every line as a duet at the same microphone -- and didn't bump into each other. Bon Jovi also sang "Blaze of Glory" and "Bed of Roses" from a small platform in the middle of the East Igloo seats, his work well-documented by a flurry of camera phones. "Livin' on a Prayer" closed the nearly 2-hour-long show with a loud, raucous singalong.

They have no such radio smashes to draw upon, but opening band Kairos earned points for playing a singular style of heavy rock. The winners of an XM Satellite Radio contest to open for Bon Jovi, the Pittsburgh band with Penn State Altoona roots played four lengthy, arty tunes in their half-hour slot. Melodic bursts of feedback, unexpected loud/soft dynamics, and the high, clear voice of Jason Sturm buoyed songs like "Loss of Supplication" and "Saturate."

(John Young is a freelance writer.)

Posted by riesambo at December 9, 2005 10:43 AM