Summer in the city and the RDS is reverberating to the sound of New Jersey. Over the course of three hours, the singer will spin tales of young lovers, of hopes and dreams, of the loss of the American dream. For once, however, it is not Bruce Springsteen who is holding court but a fellow New Jersian.
While the former has attracted critical respect alongside commercial success down the years, Jon Bon Jovi has had to make do with just the latter. There is little notion of being cool about the singer. He does, however, own his own American football team so we guess that he may be struggling on just fine.
It was 25 years ago that State saw Bon Jovi live for the first time, 24 since our last encounter. In the space of that year they went from the 3,500 capacity Hammersmith Odeon to headlining the Monsters Of Rock festival. Our paths have not crossed much since, although it is clear that the band have determinedly held on to their status. Contemporaries such as Poison, Cinderella and Ratt (don’t ask) may have fallen by the wayside but Bon Jovi are still here, selling out two nights at the south Dublin venue. There is much to recognise from those heady days – drummer Tico Torres still wears his odd gloves, David Bryan sports courageous extremely curly shoulder length hair while playing two keyboards at the same time and Richie Sambora still rocks the cowboy hat / double necked guitar look. Their frontman though (and this is very much his show) is less than sprightly, sporting a heavily strapped left knee after an accident on stage earlier in the tour.
None of this bothers the audience, who have turned up in a mood to party. The number of home made banners gives the night an air of Winning Streak – The Stadium Show and the band give them what they came for. Despite the massive video screen and lighting rig, this is a decidedly old fashioned experience. Performing without a roof (instead a line of what look like bus shelters line the back of the surprisingly small stage area), the fact that the band can fill three hours without the aid of any gimmicks is refreshing. There may be a short covers set but that’s it – no drum solos, no pyros, no prolonged goofing around (Green Day take note), no left hand side go ooh, right hand side go aah shenanigans.
Instead they just play songs, a lot of them. Of course, given such a lengthy set, there’s bound to be the odd lull but in fact the night bundles along at quite a pace. There’s a slight lack of energy on stage, with the band effectively playing in a line across the back, leaving their frontman struggling to maintain the momentum. Still, Jon Bon Jovi comes across as an engaging character, hobbling around the stage in his red jacket like a wounded Victorian soldier with great hair and teeth. He does build a genuine connection with the distant audience, helped by a walkway that takes him closer to the bulk of the crowd. It is hard not to get swept up in it all, as their anthemic, if lightweight, pop rock provides hit after hit.
It’s when night falls that the show really kicks into gear. The ballads dispensed with the band head for home with a five song burst that closes with a punchy ‘Keep The Faith’, before returning for another 45 minutes of encores including the surprisingly political ‘Dry County’ and a version of ‘These Days’ that highlights the lineage that they have indeed taken from uncle Bruce. ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ has us, along with the other thousands, shouting about being a cowboy on a steel horse and they finish with ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ – if not their ‘Born To Run’ then certainly a song that deserves a new lease of life a la ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’. The singer takes one last, awkward lap of honour and then they depart, suddenly looking their age as the video screens close in on their tired faces. The night has seen Bon Jovi battle through to win out, as they have done throughout their career. How many rounds they have left in them is still to be seen, but they show no sign of throwing in the towel just yet.
Words by Phil Udell