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March 02, 2008

Bon Jovi riding a smoother road

Jersey rockers speed past rocky start to 'Lost Highway' tour

Valentine's Day 2008 wasn't exactly a red-letter day for Bon Jovi.

The New Jersey rockers, who bring their 38-concert U.S. arena tour to Philadelphia's Wachovia Center on Sunday and Monday, along with opening act Daughtry, in support of their country-crossover album ''Lost Highway,'' were all set for their first tour rehearsal that day.

During a phone conference with media members the day before, guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboard player David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres raved about the new stage show, which they were about to try out for the first time, on Valentine's Day.

''We've got a bunch of HD screens that are just [morphing into] different things,'' Sambora proudly said. ''I think that it will be a spectacle that people have never seen before.

''We're very, very excited about it. And we're going to look at it for the first time, too. We've only seen it [in renderings] so far. But it looks like it's going to be something, from what we know, after 25 years of experience in these stages and stuff like that, it's like kind of a 'holy cow!' moment. You know what I mean? People are going to walk away going, 'Wow, this is really cool.'''

So the stagehands set everything up in the Convocation Center on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, the nearest available space big enough and close enough to the kickoff concert Feb. 18 in Omaha, Neb. The video screens were up, the sound system was set, and then madness struck.

Steve Kazmierczak, a graduate student, went amok in a shooting spree on campus, killing five students before committing suicide. The campus went into lockdown shortly before Bon Jovi's charter jet touched down.

''When the band landed, the campus was already in lockdown, and they were told what happened, so they got back on the plane and flew back to New York City,'' a Bon Jovi spokesman said that night. ''The band's thoughts and prayers go out to the families and entire community of those affected by the tragedy.''

That the tour started off under such circumstances is yet another reminder of how success and infamy are often intertwined.

Even Sambora has had to withstand his personal tragedies in the past year. His father died from lung cancer during the same month his divorce from actress Heather Locklear was finalized, and last summer, he checked himself into a facility for alcohol rehabilitation.

''Obviously, just because you're, you know, a rock 'n' roll star, it doesn't make you exempt from any of life's tragedies that happen,'' the 48-year-old Sambora said. ''I had a couple of them mount up on me a bit, but you know, the band is obviously a great, great aid in, you know, pulling me up and helping me out of all those situations.''

A week out of rehab, Sambora and the rest of the band went to work on ''Lost Highway,'' an outgrowth project from the country-crossover hit ''Who Says You Can't Go Home'' off of ''Have A Nice Day.''

''It's a good song that has a country flavor,'' Torres said of the duet Jon Bon Jovi did with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, ''and then to get the success, it kind of [took us by] surprise. We've gone to Nashville on and off individually and as a group for 17 to 18 years, and you know, it rubs off.''

''We are the first rock band that ever had the No. 1 country hit for a couple of weeks,'' Sambora added. ''That was something that we all kind of scratched our heads [about], but we were happy it went down, you know?''

Bon Jovi did much of the songwriting for ''Lost Highway'' in Nashville, not so much setting out to do a country-rock record, but just for the history and that atmosphere that exists in the mecca of songwriting. It evolved into that country sound, which even was apparent during the group's genesis with hits like ''Dead or Alive.''

''It was just kind of happenstance that we worked it into this thing,'' Sambora admitted. ''I don't think we'll ever make another completely country album ever again.''

While the tour is in support of the latest album, just like other tours, the playlist includes plenty of standards from Bon Jovi's 18-album, 25-year career, an opus that is being chronicled on this tour by Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple.

In addition to that project, Bryan has two plays set to open off-Broadway: ''Menses,'' about the first white disc jockey to out African-American music on the radio pre-Alan Freed, and ''Toxic Avenger,'' from Tony Award-winning director John Rando.

Bon Jovi's ''Lost Highway'' tour may have started out with a bump, but the road looks pretty smooth heading into a European outdoor leg before a possible U.S. summer leg.

Posted by riesambo at March 2, 2008 11:37 PM