If Jon Bon Jovi didn’t exist, Bruce Springsteen would have had to invent him: everything Jon does makes Bruce look even greater, more of a mensch, more of an artist, less egotistical, more on the money and always the greatest rocker in New Jersey.
Whether Jon Bon Jovi is in reality a mature businessman with a family (and family problems), a responsible position in the community, and a great deal of money as the CEO of Bon Jovi, Inc, a man hard nose enough to fire his lead guitarist for under delivery, he still appears to be callow, shallow and youthful. Even last night where as Jon Bon Jovi & The Kings of Suburbia he was performing at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ with all proceeds directly benefiting the Parker Family Health Center, he still seemed like a high school flirt.
I watched it live on the website “StageIt” for fifty bucks, a two hour ride off the beaten track for Jon, with a backing band of fair to middling Jersey musicians and, ta dah, Southside Johnny, who showed up for FOUR SONGS, or $7 of time depending how you count em up, and well, it was pretty damn brutal.
Opening with, er, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for some reason so obscure I can’t even put my head around it, the house band vamped for five minutes till Jon hit the stage. The silver fox has grown more rawly handsome even with a pot belly and he wiggles his tush more effective than Rhett Miller did earlier this year at Webster Hall, but he is an indifferent band leader. Launching into a song I know by the J. Geils Band “Ain’t Nothing But A House Party” and a little later Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock And Roll”, the question is: why? Why such moldy old get the over-50s party rolling, instantly proposal bar band tropes. With a full, very loud, rock and roll orchestra behind him, Jon chooses to go solo by dealing from the bottom of the deck. This is beneath even him, this is beyond a band playing an Irish bar at 1am on a Saturday night in a desperate attempt to get someone, anyone’s attention. Jon is a bouncy abstraction, he is like a caricature of a rock star.
And I wish I could say it was the worst moment but that would come more towards the end, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” which opens with two verses performed acoustic, and then repeated electrical, than the chorus is repeated once, twice, three times, and the verse comes in again, until the entire disaster area heads for the singalong with Jon repeating over and over again, before handing off to the audience and finally taking it back and on and on and on and what’s the words of wisdom?
No, Jon, it is not alright. It isn’t remotely close to alright, this is a dire, depressing version of one of the few bearable Bon Jovi songs.
Yes, that was the worst moment, but there was lots and lots of competition: the last song “American Pie”, the ridiculous “Baba O’Reilly” not remotely saved by the violinist, “Bad Medicine” overblown and heavy…
Let’s see if anything worked. Actually, Jon’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” worked (it is why I will be giving the show a D+ and not a D-) and the reason it did work was because Cohen’s song of poetic desire seemed to gain depth the closer it was played to the top; Jon skimmed it and it still worked because the words were strong enough to glow in lightness. “The Letter” wasn’t great but hey, the Box Tops, right. respect to Alex Chilton. Jon would have also gained a left field thumbs up for “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” as well only at this time in the songs career it is a little too obvious.
Also, the Kings Of Suburbia, if they were playing without the weight of expectation on their shoulders, you’d think something like “Hey, your Uncle can really play, can’t he?” But the expectations at the Count Basie Theatre worked against them. No kick against Bobby Bandiera, the rhythm guitarist whose work I’ve always admired in Southside Johnny’s band.
But Jon… I’ve seen Bon Jovi many times but I’ve only seen them great twice. Once at a Z100 concert and the last time at a Hurricane Sandy festival where they blew Bruce off stage. Both times they played very short hit filled sets, 20, 25 minutes, all the biggest, all well played, none overdone. In and out: very concentrated, very focused, very fan favorite.
And the very last time I saw Jon was a truly dire set at Metlife without Sambora but with J. Geils Band seriously, seriously taking em to the woodshed. It was worse than this one and this one was bad. What could Jon have done? He could have sung in front of a straight up rock and roll band, maybe that would have worked.
Finally, some words about the charity: “Red Bank’s Parker Family Health Center, a volunteer-based facility that provides free primary health care services to low-income and uninsured Monmouth County residents. The clinic logged 11,888 patient visits in 2013, with over 100,000 cumulative visits since the founding. Health care is provided by a network of 250 volunteers who donate 10,000 hours of service annually.”
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