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December 14, 2007

This time it's for real!

Jon Bon Jovi and Jersey bandmates atone for July dud with December to remember


Apparently, the Bon Jovi show we saw here in July wasn't part of the "real" Bon Jovi Lost Highway tour.

It was just a warm-up, what musicians might call a "paid rehearsal."

Whew - no wonder it wasn't very good. The pacing was flat, the performances were phoned in and there wasn't much of a stage design - aside from Jon Bon Jovi himself, who is a walking, talking, singing, dancing special effect all his own self.

So last night was the real deal - and another 14,000 fans at a soldout Rexall Place. Man, is this a Bon Jovi town or what?

While attendees in July got ripped off whether they admit it or not, last night's crowd definitely got their money's worth.

The difference was night and day. This is a sterling opportunity to compare and contrast and better know Bon Jovi. Don't you think? Of course, for all they had going for them, they were still doing Bon Jovi songs, but let's put any sort of material-related bias to the side for the moment. It was a solid show. Let's call it Bon Jovi Gets Carved II: The Revenge.

First off, there was a set design - a western saloon, minus the moose heads, befitting Bon Jovi's new country album, Lost Highway. The evening started with a trio of backup musicians faithfully interpreting the Hank Williams' song of the same name. Then the members of Bon Jovi filed in like football players -- ladies and gentlemen, here are your New Jersey Hard-Rock Heartlanders! - although they walked in very slowly to best soak in the resounding cheers.

The crowd went out of its collective mind when Jon sauntered in.

Cue Bon Jovi's Lost Highway, no relation to Hank's song.


Hank - "I'm a rolling stone, all alone and lost. For a life of sin, I have paid the cost."

Jon - "In my rear view mirror, my life is getting clearer."

Many of Bon Jovi's songs deal with getting out on the road, hitting the highway, making a fresh start, facing a new day. Hank's songs are about sorrows and struggles. Bon Jovi's songs are about escaping them. Hank had no escape. Bon Jovi has been gleefully providing middlebrow rock 'n' roll escapism for decades.

Are they really so different?

While the country material largely fell flat in July, the boys have really whipped the new stuff into shape in the last six months. With Jon looking very pleased with himself throughout, Whole Lotta Leaving managed a seamless fusion of country and rock 'n' roll. Guess we can call it country rock. It's a tricky genre to pull off. Hard rock - which Bon Jovi started out as - doesn't share much of a nexus with country music, and if it does, it would be in punk rock circles (Hank III?), where Bon Jovi definitely doesn't travel. And yet they seem to be pulling it off.

Guitarist Richie Sambora even sounded and looked more at ease than he did the last time. He is not a country guitarist.

Whole Lotta Leaving was followed by Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore, which sounded like a weep-in-yer-beer ballad, though its message was more of a "get into bed with me and we'll see what happens" sort of thing. The ladies seemed to like this song. There is more to Jon Bon Jovi being the sexiest man alive than mere looks. You have to write the part, too.

Packed around the country numbers like sturdy nuggets of filler were the classic hits we know and love and sometimes hate You Give Love a Bad Name, Runaway, It's My Life, Bad Medicine and so on to the inevitable Livin' on a Prayer I expected to close, but had to miss for deadline.

Darn. Back we come to bias.

Truly great songs and truly horrible songs share one trait - people remember them for a long time, sometimes fondly, sometimes unwillingly because you can't get the damned things out of your head.

Which is which is in the ears of the beholder.

Moving on: While the top three finishers of this year's Canadian Idol drew a mere 1,000 fans to the Winspear Centre last night, Hedley - featuring 2004 third placer Jacob Haggard - was opening for Bon Jovi in front of 14,000 people. Who's the Idol now, huh?

If only Hedley's material came even close to its frontman's jaw-dropping, court-jester showmanship. While the flamboyant singer skipped, leapt and twirled about the stage while gesticulating in a most theatrical way, the songs just laid there in stubborn refusal to get stuck in your head.

The fast songs were interchangeable. The slow songs were interchangeable.

Candy-floss melodies were rampant. Themes of mild angst and vaguely empowering platitudes prevailed. It made me long for Livin' on a Prayer. At least there's a hook there.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what kind of band Hedley is supposed to be. Are they pop punk or punk pop? Is this rocked up boy band fare or watered down hard rock?

Maybe country music could save these guys.

It worked for Bon Jovi.

Posted by riesambo at December 14, 2007 06:32 AM