BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
GREENVILLE, S.C. – David Bryan noted in a recent interview that Bon Jovi’s “This House is Not for Sale” tour would be “concentrating on the music, not so much video screens,” – and that’s a fact.
The band’s 20-date run, which kicked off Wednesday night at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in South Carolina, will bulldoze through Philips Arena Friday night and bring with it two dozen songs spanning Bon Jovi’s three decade-plus career, an open-backed stage surrounded by lighting towers that scrunch like Slinkys and a definitive emphasis on the sounds more than the sights.
At precisely 8:20 p.m., a bell tolled and the band’s eternally photogenic frontman Jon Bon Jovi, drummer Tico Torres, keyboardist Bryan, guitarist Phil X and bassist Hugh McDonald slammed into the title track of their current album, “This House is Not for Sale,” from behind a screen bearing the sepia-toned image of the record’s cover.
It was one of six songs from “House” that Bon Jovi would sprinkle throughout its generous, nearly 2 ½-hour concert, and, clunky metaphor of the title aside, reminded that there are plenty of arm-waving anthems still left in these guys.
While Jon Bon Jovi is now, at almost 55, a silver fox who trots, rather than runs the ramp to greet fans behind the stage, he’s still an engaging leader, bouncing on the balls of his feet, doing his open-palm arm flutters at Phil X (a worthy musical replacement to Richie Sambora, who unceremoniously bailed during the band’s 2013 tour) and grinning and flashing thumbs-up signs to well-wishers in the front rows.
As he piloted Bon Jovi through the propulsive new rocker “Knockout” and the first crowd singalong of the night, the ubiquitous “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Jon Bon Jovi made you believe he meant it when he smiled and said, “It’s good to be back.”
Although this was the official launch of the tour, the band worked out the kinks at a couple of dates last month at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and the result is a crisp production that showcases Bon Jovi’s musical agility. Torres’ cymbal crashes on “Born to Be My Baby” were as caffeinated as they were in 1988 – when we all had more hair and fewer wrinkles – and Phil X’s squealing solo confirmed that Bon Jovi classics were built to endure, regardless of the player.
The band sounded sharp throughout the set, with Jon Bon Jovi’s voice ringing through the arena in that familiar slightly nasal tone.
While some song choices were questionable depending upon your level of fandom – wouldn’t “Just Older,” “Everyday” or “Superman Tonight” have played better than the achingly generic “Work for the Working Man” or the made-for-ESPN-highlight-reels “We Got it Goin’ On”? – Bon Jovi is to be applauded for not only working in a robust newcomer such as “Roller Coaster,” but also making room for their ultimate pact of brotherhood, “Blood on Blood.”
About halfway through the show, Jon Bon Jovi clasped the microphone with both hands and talked to the sold-out crowd for a bit – about how “the last few years were tough” and the band was at a crossroads. He explained the meaning behind “This House is Not for Sale,” shared his struggles with songwriting and Bon Jovi’s 2015 record label dispute and reiterated the importance of the arts.
But after a segment dedicated to new songs, Bon Jovi edged back to familiar territory with “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” and “Lay Your Hands on Me,” which included a brief opening tribute to Prince.
That the core quintet was joined by longtime Bon Jovi producer John Shanks on guitar and percussionist/background singer Everett Bradley meant that every song, from the middle finger rocker “Have a Nice Day” to the rhythmic “Keep the Faith,” were augmented with layers of sound.
While this isn’t Bon Jovi’s flashiest tour, it solidifies their standing as one of rock’s most resilient acts.
(Hear some of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”)
With Maradeen. 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10. $19.75-$552.75. Philips Arena, 1 Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
Setlist from Feb. 8 tour kickoff in Greenville, S.C.
- This House Is Not for Sale
- You Give Love a Bad Name
- Born to Be My Baby
- We Weren’t Born to Follow
- Lost Highway
- Roller Coaster
- Work for the Working Man
- Because We Can
- We Got It Goin’ On
- Who Says You Can’t Go Home
- It’s My Life
- God Bless This Mess
- Scars on This Guitar
- The Devil’s in the Temple
- Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night
- Blood on Blood
- Lay Your Hands on Me
- Have a Nice Day
- Bad Medicine
- Keep the Faith
- Wanted Dead or Alive
- Livin’ on a Prayer