Photo and review by Ben Hansen
Special to the Hard News Cafe
SALT LAKE CITY–You are most likely familiar with at least a half-dozen songs from the Bon Jovi music catalogue. Whether you have sung your heart out while pumping your fists into the air to songs like Living on a Prayer or Bad Medicine via karaoke or while playing Guitar Hero, or remember a romantic moment in your life that correlates to Bed of Roses or I’ll Be There for You, chances are that most of us have some memory that can be associated with a Bon Jovi song. Singer/guitarist Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist/vocals Richie Sambora, bassist Hugh McDonald, drummer Tico Torres, and keyboardist David Bryan have all contributed vocal lines, individual riffs and rhythms that that have caused many of us to “air jam” wildly with our hands. Now entering their fourth decade as one of the top acts in the rock world, the band brought their massive collection of hits to Salt Lake City last week.
Over the last decade, Bon Jovi has made significant giving efforts. Whether it is through promoting local bands at each show, donating his personal music gear, or supporting two handfuls of charities including Habitat for Humanity, the man has had an impressive history of giving back freely. This evening was no exception, with a huge focus being made on Jon’s current charity in many places along the concourse of the venue. Dozens of volunteers recruited concert-goers for community involvement, while the band offered opportunities for purchasing discounted merchandise in fundraising efforts. Jon himself was ready to give back musically by offering a long concert, as he joked early with the audience, “I ain’t going to waste time talking…I’ll be singing and dancing. Doing what you pay me to do!”
The set list was well conceived, covering numerous eras of the band’s success in closely clustered intervals. From the start of the opening song Blood on Blood through Born to Be My Baby, I could literally again feel the satisfaction of finding my cracked, well-worn New Jersey cassette tape, ready to reap the joys of reliving these classics by popping it in my double-decked boom-box and turning the volume up as loud as I could (until my parents would bang on the door to keep the racket down.)
Bon Jovi’s 2011 Circle tour somewhat seemed to be a celebration of their music coming full circle into the next generation. Fans of all ages, from those who lived their glory days during the band’s initial heyday to teenagers who admire the complete catalogue long after the majority of it has been written, all had the opportunity to experience a major multimedia event that somehow made Energy Solutions feel more like an intimate venue than a large arena. Although the concert was not solicited as “in the round,” Jon found time to perform songs to each corner of the building, including climbing custom mechanized platforms to the rear of the stage to ensure that even those seated behind the action were involved in the show. A circular catwalk surrounded a pit, making the inner stage portion reminiscent of U2’s famous ellipse. Jon and Richie took full advantage of the expanded performing area, making their way out during several songs to the outer reaches of the crowd with guitars in hand and microphones placed at various locations along the way.
Jon and Richie mixed their familiar vocal pairing with extra power throughout the night, as Hugh and David helped by providing strong backing vocals that gave a little oomph to each song in the set. Even with the additional vocals, there were numerous times where the audience noise drowned out the echoing singing in the stadium, as thousands of fans vocalized in unison as if many of the songs were hymns. Jon encouraged the sing-along action of the crowd throughout the entire set, while Hugh, Richie, and Tico laid down a rock-solid rhythm section for the many legions of would-be performers.
As the band progressed into the later years of their archives, they would periodically dig back deeper into their early classics. Between It’s My Life and The More Things Change (their most recent song), the early hit Runaway was well placed. Bad Medicine, I’ll Be There for You, and Keep the Faith all found their way into segments which included We Got it Going On, Have a Nice Day, and It’s My Life. Late in the set, Jon took some time to acknowledge his fondness for the state of Utah prior to playing the song Blaze of Glory from the film Young Guns II, as the video for this song was shot in Southern Utah. He also cited his thanks for his bassist Hugh, who is also a Utah native.
No Bon Jovi set would be complete without hearing what VH1 had named as the top song of the 80’s. Three songs into the encore performance, Jon pulled out the band’s finale and fan favorite Living on a Prayer to an ecstatic audience. While he started singing the first several lines to the song with no musical accompaniment, somehow the crowd mustered up the ability to scream with the energy as if the concert had just started, only this was 23 songs into the show!
After the show ended, the Energy Solutions Arena seemed to empty rather slowly. It seemed that few were antsy for the show to end, as everyone appeared to want more Bon Jovi. On my drive home, I again wondered what had happened to my old cassette tape, and if I found it, how I’d play it. Regardless, I’m glad I finally got the chance to relive those days for a couple of hours with thousands of fans who felt the same way.