Bon Jovi Returns to Asbury Park for Final Night of Bamboozle

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi didn’t want to get too sentimental about Asbury Park on the third and final night of the Bamboozle festival, but taking the stage in his home state of New Jersey, the big softie couldn’t help it.

“I can’t believe 30 years have gone by,” said the singer of his band’s storied career. “We must have been six or seven years-old when we played at The Fast Lane.”

But Bon Jovi was not only sentimental but reverential about the beach town, telling the crowd he was more than happy to come back and “remember the times I prayed to play at Convention Hall and do well.”

Indeed, it’s hard to believe that at one time in rock history, one could plunk down a $1.50 cover charge and walk in to see a young Jon Bon Jovi honing his craft in the town’s humble seaside bars.  Now a 50-year-old international superstar and actor, he aimed to give the fans something special: an action-packed show and a tip of the hat to the group’s humble beginnings .

Resplendent in a green leather jacket, the dashing frontman kicked off the show with a trio of arena rock anthems: “Raise Your Hands,” “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Born to Be My Baby.”

The band’s Bamboozle gig marked a return to the stage after a year off the road, and Bon Jovi remarked that the musicians were “a little rusty.”

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It didn’t show. Bon Jovi -- which includes Richie Sambora (guitar), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards) with Hugh McDonald on bass and Bobby Bandiera on guitar -- energized the crowd with a healthy offering of hits (“Runaway,” “Have A Nice Day,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “I’ll Be There For You,” "Living on a Prayer”), crowd-pleasers  (“In These Arms,” “Blood on Blood,” “Sleep When I’m Dead”) and the occasional offbeat deep album cut (“Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen From Mars” off 2000’s Crush), just to keep things interesting.

Ever the consummate showman, Bon Jovi still manages to get a huge crowd reaction simply by flashing his million-dollar smile. True to form, he's always been a charismatic presence on stage, and Sunday night was no exception. He played to both sides of the stage, and climbed down to the front just to sing and shake hands and connect with the fans (some who had traveled thousands of miles, including two women from England who saw the band at London’s Wembley Stadium but made the pilgrimage to Bamboozle simply because they “had to see him in New Jersey.”)

By the time the group led the eager audience through an exercise in background singing and good old Jersey fist pumping, Bon Jovi revealed an important piece of information: the band’s next album is just about done, before adding, “We’ll see you next summer.” Judging by the crowd's reaction, it couldn't come soon enough.

Bon Jovi’s headlining bow capped off another excellent afternoon of music and entertainment on the final day of the festival, where there was plenty of action on the main stage, including Los Angeles rockers Buck Cherry, who played a down and dirty set that included their biggest songs -- “Lit Up” and the Paris Hilton inspired raunch-fest, “Crazy Bitch” (the song was a carefully crafted commentary on Hilton’s infamous sex tape). The set also featured an expletive laden discussion of female grooming by lead vocalist, Josh Todd.

Representing the Garden State, New Brunswick’s Gaslight Anthem delivered a tight and passionate set that included their special brand of Jersey Shore inspired rock. Songs like “The ’59 Sound” and “American Slang” evoke sounds of early Bruce Springsteen, but with a hint of garage and a dash of Paul Westerberg and The Replacements thrown in for good measure. Wrapping the set with a cover of The Who’s  “Baba O’ Riley” was a nice touch, as was when lead singer Brian Fallon encouraged all in attendance to support Asbury's local businesses before leaving town. “These are good people, and this is a good city,” Fallon said. “This is my hometown, you know?”

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With the weather turning cloudy and cooler than the first two days of the festival, there were considerably less bikinis or people lounging on the sand. Many took advantage of the indoor entertainment inside The Paramount, where Wayne, NJ, natives Dramarama played a short batch of songs spanning the alt rock band’s career.

And is there anything more rock and roll than comedian Andrew Dice Clay? Clad in his trademark leather studded jacket and brandishing a cigarette, Clay emerged to the sounds of Guns N' Roses' iconic “Welcome to the Jungle” and a packed house chanting, “Dice! Dice!” This comes as little surprise considering the comic is experiencing a renaissance thanks to appearances on Entourage and Celebrity Apprentice as well an upcoming New Year's special on Showtime.

“What I am in reality is a rock star without a guitar because comics could never, ever get the kind of reaction I get from audiences.” Clay told THR. “It has been hysterical crowds.  It’s almost hard to do the material, because it gets to the level where I'm going, 'What are they expecting from me? Because there isn't going to be a guitar solo."

Dice pulled no punches, insulting audience members and ranting about the rudeness of technology in every day life (“Put your phone down, asshole,” said the comedian to an unsuspecting guy in the front row). By the time he got into a bit about seducing a date with a friendly game of Twister, audience members were in stitches.

Other Bamboozle highlights included a headlining set by Long Island alternative rockers Brand New. The group played for an hour, closing with the song “Jesus.” Fans were treated to a longer show Saturday night at local music haunt The Stone Pony. Local punk band Bouncing Souls has its official headquarters in Asbury Park and could have walked to the gig, where the band treated fans to older material (“Kids and Heroes” “Private Radio”) and debuted a new song, “Last Times,” from their forthcoming album, Comet, due out July 12.

And there was a Cyrus in the house --  Metro Station's Trace Cyrus, tattooed brother of Miley Cyrus, appeared on the Temple of Boozle stage inside the cavernous Convention Hall with his new group, Ashland High. Also on the Boozle stage was Bergen County boy band Action Item, already touted as fellow Jersey boys Jonas Brothers

Twitter: @micheleamabile