You don't normally think of Shakespeare when it comes to Bon Jovi, but at the risk of sounding pedantic, I kept thinking of a line from "MacBeth" as I watched and listened to the New Jersey rock band perform Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City:
"It is a tale ... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
As it nears its 30th anniversary, Bon Jovi has built a reputation as a successful live band, and the stage production at the crowded (but not sold out) arena was second-to-none, with a phalanx of spinning and pivoting lights and lasers and a gargantuan video monitor behind that band that was truly spectacular, with what is billed as potentially being the largest projection screen in the history of the world. With 1,428 flat panels used on the hexagon projection wall, the 4.5 million pixels helped to create a constantly changing sea of eye-popping visuals. On top of this were scores of speakers that will leave the audience's ears ringing throughout Thursday.
But what I saw on those screens was much more interesting than what I heard from the band Wednesday, as it further devolves from a reasonably entertaining hard-pop-rock band in the 1980s and early 1990s into a tedious and downright boring adult-contemporary band. No one, save for Rod Stewart, has produced such middling results from so much apparent talent.
Despite having released three straight No. 1-charting albums in a row, out of those albums the only song that I believe will be in future set lists will be the lead single from Bon Jovi's latest album — an unoffensive anthem called "Because We Can" that claims to make a stand but in the end makes no attempt to do so. But at least it is catchy, and fans can pump their fists in the air to yet another catchy chorus that Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora have crafted. (More about Sambora later.)
The band launched its 130-minute, 20-song concert with the tepid "That's What the Water Made Me," yet another song that sounds straight out of a pep rally from a junior high school. The sound of the band at the outset was awful, but fortunately, the sound of the band improved as the concert went on. Some songs have aged better than others — "Born to Be My Baby" holds up, while "I'll Be There For You" is yawn-inducing and somnambulant —and the band seemed genuinely responsive to the fans' energy, which was most rapturous during the predictable encore songs "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Livin' on a Prayer."
What I realized was that "Livin' on a Prayer" actually tries to tell some sort of a story, while many of Bon Jovi's more recent songs are filled with platitudes that fail to connect with any humanity left inside of my unfeeling carcass. Even some of the song titles are clichés: "Have Nice Day." "Who Says You Can't Go Home." "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." "It's My Life." Also unforgivable was the lack of "Blaze of Glory" (although it is admittedly a Jon Bon Jovi solo song) and the criminal absence of "Lay Your Hands On Me."
On the bright side, Jon was amiable and chatty, and despite playing six songs fewer than he did at the previous night in Denver, seemed worn out at the end of the show, evidence that he left a lot of himself on the stage. And, he has great teeth.
The elephant on the stage was the absence of founding member and the Keith to Jon's Mick, Richie Sambora. I can't fault the band for not having him there, as all reports suggest it was Sambora who left the band mid-tour, rather than them showing him the door. Canadian session guitarist Phil X, Sambora's replacement, did a serviceable job on the guitar and the voicebox, but I got the feeling that he was holding himself back and not allowed to spread his wings too far. And Sambora is one of the most under-rated backing vocalists out there, and the depth and soulful harmonies that he adds to songs such as "Wanted Dead or Alive" were notable. David Bryan, on keys, Tico Torres on drums, and Hugh McDonald on bass, were solid but unremarkable.
To Jon's credit, he did dedicate a spirited "It's My Life" to a special-needs class in the Alpine School District that is using the song as its theme song this year.
But by the end of the night, after realizing I didn't have any more Shakespeare to ruminate on, I turned my thoughts to how Jon Bon Jovi's birth name was John Bongiovi, but changed to Bon Jovi in part because it is more pronounceable. The same thing happened to Chef Boyardee, whose birth name was Ettore Boiardi, and who reportedly was a great cook back before his namesake canned pasta included a concoction called Beef-a-Roni. Both names were sanitized for general consumption, and the same can be said of the legacies of both men.
To see a photo gallery of the show, go to http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/entertainment2/56176800-223/photos-music-arena-bon.html.csp