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July 21, 2006

Bon Jovi: a concert by the numbers

Were it possible to include such things in museums, Jon Bon Jovi's smile belongs somewhere between Jimi Hendrix's scarves and Roy Orbison's sunglasses. Impossibly white and astonishingly straight, it was visible from the floor level to the cheap seats at Giants Stadium Tuesday night, a frequently flashed miracle of modern dentistry.

He's got a lot to smile about. The band that shares his name is well into its 22nd year of existence and shows little sign of losing steam. In an age of box-office paralysis, Bon Jovi is one of the few bands that can still command a stadium show. The band's most recent album, "Have a Nice Day," was a surprise chart success and last April Bon Jovi became the first rock band to hit the top of the country singles chart. So why did so much of Tuesday's sold-out concert - the first of three the band will play this month - feel so painfully routine?

Bon Jovi has spent the bulk of its career in a state of defiance. Harangued by critics for being too simple and by metal fans for being too sugary, the group beat both odds by sheer force of will, steadily refining its image over the years to earn respect - however grudging - from those who once besmirched them.

The characters who populate Bon Jovi's songs are similarly steely; they work tough jobs to pay mountains of bills, struggle to realize their teenage dreams and, above all else, believe ardently in true love. No matter the obstacles, Bon Jovi's protagonists have got each other - and that, as we know, is a lot.

The bulk of the night was given over to scaling the group's mountain of hits, but most of them felt strangely by-the-numbers. "Born to Be My Baby" was sluggish and turgid, lacking any of the recorded version's urgency, and "Wanted Dead or Alive," the group's first flirtation with country music, felt like it was only played because it had to be.

Bon Jovi's longtime sidearm Richie Sambora (lately in the news for his separation from Heather Locklear) is not an especially spectacular guitarist, but over the years he's developed something of a signature style. He prefers manic squiggles of sound to long melodic leads, and when he dropped a jabbering phrase in the center of the group's shopworn first single, "Runaway," it momentarily sprang to life.

Both band and audience were buoyed by a last-act downpour that vanquished the evening's murderous heat. Invigorated by the cloudburst, the band tore through fierce, snarling renditions of "Bad Medicine" and "Raise Your Hands," so electric and ecstatic it was as if they were writing them on the spot. Bon Jovi himself was like a leonine messiah, standing arms spread at the lip of the stage, fixing those pearly whites into a smirk and hollering "Bring it on!" defiantly into the growing gale.

Maybe that's why he seemed so detached earlier in the evening - the odds just weren't long enough.

BON JOVI. Spirited when wet. Seen Tuesday at Giants Stadium. With Nickelback. Also Wednesday and tomorrow.

Posted by riesambo at July 21, 2006 06:11 AM