Some bands merely grow old, others grow up.
Today’s Bon Jovi, among the premier pop-metal bands of the 1980s, has a depth that wasn’t apparent in its younger days. Once defined by the album “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi is now more socially adept. Or at least more socially conscious.
Among the new songs from the band’s “The Circle” album that underscore this are “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” about personal empowerment in the modern world, and “Work for the Working Man,” a compassionate tune for these tough economic times.
The songs were part of Bon Jovi’s high-energy show Friday night (Feb. 19) at KeyArena, the first official concert of the band’s 2010 “The Circle” tour (though two shows preceded it in Honolulu last week). A second show is tonight (Feb. 20) at KeyArena.
The 26-year-old band has matured without losing its vibrancy. With Jon Bon Jovi (born Bongiovi) at the helm, the show opened explosively with “Blood on Blood,” as it had at the warmup shows in Honolulu.
In regard to song selection, there were a couple of big surprises in the set list, among them a nod to Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
In addition to Jon Bon Jovi, the New Jersey-based band featured guitarist Richie Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres and two extra musicians. The band’s spectacular stage production included multiple, giant LED screens (mounted at angles to each other), a large circular stage, a VIP pit and a crescent-shaped catwalk that the band used for its more intimate songs. From one of the suites where I watched the concert, it looked fantastic.
The afore-mentioned “We Weren’t Born to Follow” featured oversized images of Muhammad Ali, John Lennon and other heroic figures, as well as pumping fists.
“Just like riding a bicycle,” the 47-year-old Jon Bon Jovi announced after finishing the song, indicating that the band was firing on all cylinders for its comeback tour.
For its third song, the band rolled out a classic, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and the crowd exploded. Many sang along to the memorable lyric: “Shot through the heart/ And you’re to blame/ You give love a bad name.”
Jon Bon Jovi talked about being in Seattle for the week between the Honolulu and Seattle shows. Seeing the restored Paramount Theatre sign brought back memories of one of the band’s first local shows. “It was 1984, and I was about 12 years old,” he quipped.
Sambora, one of rock’s guitar stars of the ’80s, strutted his stuff during a powerful “Shot Through the Heart.”
Jon Bon Jovi talked about a new era in which “we” was more important than “me.” His comments introduced the new song “When We Were Beautiful,” a wistful tune about lost innocence that features a “sha la la” chorus.
When the band finished a nice version of “Lost Highway,” Jon Bon Jovi said, “Not bad for a first night.”
“Superman Tonight,” a single from the new album, was a compassionate song about helping someone desperately in need. It featured the line, “Who’s going to save you when the stars fall from your sky?”
Among the surprise tunes was “Homebound Train,” a blues song featuring Sambora on guitar and vocals. The band apparently hadn’t played the song in concert in 20 years, and it really sounded great.
The other surprise was Jon Bon Jovi’s moving version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a very unusual selection for a band of this kind.
The melancholy, poetic song has been covered by many artists, from John Cale to Brandi Carlile. Jon Bon Jovi, performing from the catwalk, gave the classic song a kind of hard-rock spin that lent it a different feel from most versions. Afterward, the singer touched the hands of concertgoers just below him.
The entire band then joined the band leader on the catwalk for “Bed of Roses,” a sad, morning-after ballad that provided a wistful interlude for the mostly hard-rocking show.
The band returned to the stage for “Work for the Working Man,” featuring the line, “Won’t someone help me, someone justify/ Why these strong hands are on the unemployment line?” It was a powerful song that addressed the frustrations of the Great Recession.
Bon Jovi finished the main set with “Bad Medicine, ” “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and Love’s the Only Rule.”
The three-song encore featured “Thorn in My Side” and two of the band’s biggest hits: “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and “Livin’ On a Prayer.”
“Wanted Dead Or Alive” today sounds like a prototypical country rock song, rangy and powerful.
“Livin’ On a Prayer” was, well, explosive. A true crowd-pleaser to close out the show.
Opening the show was Boca Raton, Fla., alternative-rock band Dashboard Confessional, led by singer-guitarist Chris Carrabba. It was the band’s first night on the Bon Jovi tour, and a very auspicious one.
Armed with songs from its current album, “Alter the Ending,” the band was tight and energized — and clearly thrilled to be on tour with Bon Jovi.
If you attended the concert, what did you think?
By the way, Jon Bon Jovi was in Seattle this week before the tour kickoff at KeyArena. Find out what Jon Bon Jovi was up to by clicking on my preview here.
Here’s the set list:
1. Blood on Blood
2. We Weren’t Born to Follow
3. You Give Love a Bad Name
4. Born to Be My Baby
6. Shot Through the Heart
7. When We Were Beautiful
8. Lost Highway
9. Superman Tonight
10. We Got It Goin’ On
11. It’s My Life
12. Homebound Train
14. Bed of Roses
15. Something For The Pain
16. Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night
17. Work for the Working Man
18. Bad Medicine
19. Who Says You Can’t Go Home
20. Love’s the Only Rule
21. Thorn in My Side
22. Wanted Dead or Alive
23. Livin’ on a Prayer