The band touched on numerous other musical highlights from 30-plus years during the 2 1/2-hour show—including a couple of songs off their new album.
But, despite the solid performance, something felt slightly off with the whole concert. The pacing felt about a half-beat slow until the blistering encore. More on that in a second.
There’s a problem with trying to compare shows from the same band. The past shows are almost always remembered as being better. I’ve seen Bon Jovi a number of times in a number of different venues. By my recollection, the last time they hit Salt Lake City was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. That memory may be colored by nostalgia and time. Maybe that’s why it felt like the band was dancing around the musical “sweet spot” all night, but not quite getting there.
Or, it could be the absence of guitarist Ritchie Sambora. He suddenly left the tour in early April for “personal reasons.” The band replaced him with guitarist Phil X, who previously filled in for Sambora on tour in 2011 when Sambora was in rehab. It certainly felt at times like the group was trying to find their way onstage.
The main impact from Sambora’s absence was more pressure on frontman Jon Bon Jovi to deliver. Most of the band’s previous shows have included a long musical interlude featuring Sambora, affording Bon Jovi a break. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday. Even though he recently passed his 51st birthday, the singer was only offstage for a minute or two. After seeing that, I really don’t have any room to complain about the rigors of my life, given that I’m eight years younger.
The most memorable part of the concert came during a performance of “Bed of Roses.” Bon Jovi was standing away from the main stage on an arced runway when he noticed a young woman in the front row paying more attention to her smartphone than the concert happening right in front of her. The singer sat down on the stage and asked her if “she was finished texting.” He then seized the phone and proceeded to briefly rifle through the embarrassed woman’s messages.
There were other surprises, too. The band seamlessly segued into the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” during a performance of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” prompting Bon Jovi to strut around the stage a la Mick Jagger. He also took a playful shot at two of today’s young musical stars, telling the crowd he may not be as “popular as Justin Bieber” or “couldn’t dance like Justin Timberlake.” But, he said, he could “rock harder than both of them combined.” Bieber and Timberlake were easy targets for Bon Jovi as most of the crowd was filled with aging Gen X-ers who are likely more than fed up with today’s pop music favored by their children.
The best part of the show, by far, was the encore. Here the band really hit their stride as they powered through four songs, including the aforementioned “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The last number was saved, appropriately, for last.
It’s too bad Bon Jovi didn’t visit Salt Lake later in this tour. It’s clear the group is adjusting to a new lead guitarist and trying to gel with very little or no chance to rehearse. Give them a month together, and it’s likely the group will be back to delivering a top-notch show. Wednesday night didn’t quite get there. But, for Bon Jovi, not quite is still a hell of a lot better than most bands on their best nights.