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House of Blues; Chicago, IL; 05/04/00

Reviewed by Shelly Harris

    "It's been even better than I thought it would be," Jon Bon Jovi told the audience midway into the band's special, test-the-water House of Blues (Chicago) performance in support of their new album "Crush" (released internationally in early June). Bon Jovi was referring to his life (not coincidentally, "It's My Life" is the album's first single) and, in particular, the long, amazing ride he's had during his rock career, even though it's a career he had already absolutely foreseen as his destiny when he was still in his teens. (In fact, he once told me in an interview during the debut Bon Jovi album period that "I could never think of the idea of us not getting signed, not making records; I always believed in it that much.")

    But I doubt that even Bon Jovi, the movie star, (his current flick, "UB-571," was #1 at the box office in the US on the date of this show) could have envisioned the absolutely stunning reception his band would receive on this night in Chicago. Indeed, this particular gig - like his entire career - must have been a step beyond even his own highest expectations. At the end it was hard to tell who was more astonished after all was said and done, the audience or the band. Really, who would have thunk it? Certainly not me. Though I have seen and reviewed Bon Jovi several times during their '80's heyday, I really didn't anticipate this show being one that would blast me to Bermuda. Prior to the show, it was all too easy to think that this gig might be a bit like some of the other passť, uninspired '80's things that have been going around the States during last few years, where certain "hair bands" go through the motions supporting their latest albums with lukewarm success. 

    Instead, in this show - only the band's second appearance since recording the new album and their first in over six years - Bon Jovi utterly shook down the jam-packed House (of Blues), leaving no doubt that their fortunes are still distinctly headed north. I kid you not, nor do I exaggerate: the floors were literally bouncing and the ceiling seemed ready to blow off at any second from the crosscurrents and chemistry that were generated immediately from the moment the lights went down. 

    From the opening note of "Living On a Prayer," it was obvious that the band was PUMPED and primed, and it took no more than a millisecond for the SRO audience to receive the transmission and up it another notch. Still looking fit, youthful, and au currant (though his hairless waxed chest - what's up with that? - was apparently a bit of a surprise to the some of the ladies smashed up around me near the front), JBJ commanded the boards (tongue-in-cheek) in the persona of a fire-and-brimstone evangelist at a fundamentalist revival meeting. (Make that a rock'n'roll revival for, as JBJ pointed out in effusive, pseudo-Pentecostal preacher lingo, "rock'n'roll IS a religion.") 

    Indeed, as the band authoritatively and dynamically proceeded  through a seamless set that included some other older hits like "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Wanted Dead Or Alive," but mostly very well received material from the new album such as "It's My Life" (already being played on the radio in the US), "Thank You For Loving Me" (a ballad for the "girly girls," JBJ wryly announced, noting that it was inspired by the Brad Pitt movie, "Meet Joe Black") , " Lay Your Hands On Me," and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," the entire audience, including all the biz luminaries and other VIPs in the balconies, had become a hand-clapping, rolling-in-the-aisles gospel choir. (Not that there were any aisles to roll in.) 

    Clearly, JBJ, who uses every inch of the stage (taking his best lessons from the old-school showmen), has perfected his ability to pull in and inspire an audience with just the right mixture of accessibility, enthusiasm and strut. Jumping up and down and bursting with energy, he at one point jokingly implored the audience, "What are you guys trying to do, kill me? I'm an old man!" (Yeah, right, and I'm Whistler's mother!) 

    The band, too (especially an on-fire Sambora), was in top musical form, and equally revved up - and visibly moved - by the high voltage electricity ricocheting throughout the room. (Several times Bon Jovi and Sambora could be observed beaming at each other with barely contained  CAN-YOU-BELIEVE-THIS? grins on their faces.) Indeed, by the time the band worked up to a crescendo in the prolonged encore, "Bad Medicine," which included a surprisingly effective and rousing medley of R&B tunes like "Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Me and Bobby McGee," and "Shout," there didn't appear to be a single non-believer left remaining in the entire place. Indeed, although Bon Jovi also once told me just before the band's first tour that "this is a live band" ("This is a band that's got to get out on the road. I'm dying, dying! You wanna talk about watts? That's us! There's watts right through my heart! "), I have never seen the band perform or sound better in their entire career. 

    Although there were several contributing factors at work here (the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" adage combined with the important intimacy of playing a well-designed smaller venue), the main reason that Bon Jovi rose the spirits from the dead in this performance was simply because - glam/pop metal pretenses behind them - they have matured to capture and refine the essence of what they really are, which is, simply (as JBJ himself said from the start) a [quintessential] "American rock'n'roll" band. You can make that a Great one now, Jon. Hallelujah and Amen!

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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.