For those people who, like me, are not intensely loyal fans of Bon Jovi (and judging by its tour receipts, there aren’t too many of us), the band’s continued success, 25 years past its heyday, can seem like a bit of a mystery.
But on Sunday night in First Niagara Center, as the group led a seemingly full house through a triumphant, hours-long set of hair-metal classics, monster ballads, fist-pumping anthems, and a lot of new material that sounded like all of those things, the reason for its evergreen dominance became clear. This band was built to last from the beginning, to be a perpetual pop machine that churns out one huge chorus after the next, each one possessing a concept vague enough to appeal to the maximum number of consumers – um, I mean listeners – without just simply saying, “We love love!”
Don’t believe me? The answer is right in front of you, just like in “The Usual Suspects.” In the ’80s, when these guys were on top of the world, they told us, “We’re halfway there.” In the ’90s, when grunge had temporarily dethroned them, they urged, “Keep the faith.” In the ’00s, when they stormed back onto the charts, they boasted, “It’s now or never.” And this year, with their legacy intact, their lead singer invited to appear with Bruce Springsteen at major fundraising events, they will release an album smugly titled “What About Now.”
It’s like these songs were all written in 1984 by Diane Warren and a crack marketing team, just waiting for the right, unthreateningly sexy avatar to give them to. And in 2013, Jon Bon Jovi remains the perfect conduit for this material. Whether it was the shout-along rock of the opening “You Give Love a Bad Name,” the modern country of the new single “Because We Can” or the high-fructose corn syrup that is “I’ll Be There for You,” the singer was charming, emotive, and audience-inclusive. Still the dreamboat, yet now possessing a whiff of John Mellencamp gravitas, the man made all of his between-song banter feel more genuine than it had a right to be, from chatter about his new album to obviously generic points about Buffalo. (There’s “a lot of dreams and history” here, apparently. Thanks Jon.)
As the show carried on, and the crowd reacted to the old hits and the new stuff with the same level of verve, you had to be impressed by the band’s remarkable consistency.
“It’s My Life,” its massive comeback hit from a decade ago, slayed Sunday night’s audience, despite it lifting the formula for “Livin’ On A Prayer” wholesale. Every one of the new songs were similar re-hashings of Bon Jovi classics, each one just another example of how ingenious these guys are at writing choruses that make you feel like there’s a big game tomorrow, that you’re the underdog, and that you’re going to win.
Why did Bon Jovi go over so well Sunday night? Why do they inspire so many people to pay $150 a pop to see them (in my section, at least)?
Why are they playing sold-out hockey sheds with no opening act, instead of touring county fairs with Ratt and L.A. Guns?
As always, the band has already given us the answer. Because they can.