EmptyStaples Center, Los Angeles
Wednesday, April 9
In their third sold-out Southern California performance in less than a week, Bon Jovi transcended any haze of hairspray that has lingered since the band's inception a quarter-century ago with a masterfully paced, thoroughly enjoyable 140-minute, 25-song set. Leaning heavily on their latest release, "Lost Highway," being a little bit country proved to serve the band quite well, demonstrating that they can deliver their hits with familiar aplomb and also offer viable new material in the process.
While most of the bands Bon Jovi shared stages with through their formative years rely solely on nostalgia to fill seats, New Jersey's favorite sons have turned nostalgia into a contemporary hit machine. Their recently embraced country aesthetic is a move of tactical genius, as it only serves to magnify Jon Bon Jovi's Middle America and everyman appeal.
That's not to say the emollient frontman doesn't know how to work the heartstrings to his favor, but when he does, it's poetic in its translation. Singing a pair of ballads from a small stage in the middle of the arena, he swept a thirtysomething fan onto the stage during "(You Want To) Make a Memory," slow-danced with her and planted a kiss on the lips before leading her back to her seat. It was like the dance at prom that every woman in the crowd wished she could have back, and it was a vivid example of the magic the singer delivers. The gushing only grew stronger when the band followed with "Bed of Roses."
Swooning ballads at a Bon Jovi show are a given, but it was the spirited and amped-up bulk of the set that proved most defining to the band's present place in music, with late-'80s favorites "Raise Your Hands," "Bad Medicine" and "Keep the Faith" providing hard-rocking highlights. Jon Bon Jovi only got better as the night went on and the sweat started to show and fatigue became audible. His vocals showed the warmth of wear on "Have a Nice Day," and an encore-opening cover of "Hallelujah" wasn't quite as soulful as current "American Idol" contestant Jason Castro's showstopping performance a few weeks back (or Jeff Buckley's original) but still was particularly well-received.
Guitarist Richie Sambora's play supported his guitar hero status, lending lead vocals and a bluesy guitar to "I'll Be There for You" and laying similarly blues-fashioned solos on "Blaze of Glory" and a closing cover of George Thorogood's "Treat Her Right." David Bryan's keyboards drove "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and painted a subtle, violin-accompanied backdrop to "Hallelujah," and drummer Tico Torres was in exceptional form throughout.
Opener and last season's "American Idol" standout Chris Daughtry gave his best performance of the night when it counted most, joining Bon Jovi onstage and providing lead vocals on "Blaze of Glory," but his band's supporting set didn't prove nearly as memorable. Although his multiplatinum status might justify his presence on the bill, the 40-minute opening set didn't demonstrate nearly the polish of his well-crafted recordings. The set might have worked in a club but was sullied by a muddy mix and lack of spark in the arena setting.