It’s become a staple of Bon Jovi’s live performances of the song “Whole Lot of Leavin’” wherein after frontman Jon Bon Jovi delivers the line “Do we got it anymore?” he’ll pause for 10 seconds or so to enable the adoring audience, who well knows the routine, to scream its enthusiastic affirmation.
Thing is, though, if the crowd at Friday night’s show at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City was being honest, the correct response to JBJ’s query would have been, “Well … sometimes.”
Those who filled the arena to near-capacity likely left the 2-hour, 10-minute concert happy, buoyed by the closeout performances of “Slippery When Wet” classics “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” fresh on their minds. But the effort that preceded it was inconsistent, at times lethargic and all the worse for a setlist that skewed too heavily toward 21st century track inclusiveness, at the noticed expense of some omitted hits.
It was expected to some degree — this being the “This House Is Not for Sale” tour, it stood to reason, for instance, that four tracks from the band’s latest album would be included, even if, arguably, three of them did not make much of an impact. Beyond that, though, some of the choices were curious. Were four songs from the country-tinged “Lost Highway” — an album that has not aged well — really necessary? Especially considering the one bona fide hit from that effort, “(You Want to) Make a Memory,” was excluded?
If the point was to illustrate that this is a band not content to rest on the goodwill garnered from its slew of ’80s and ’90s supernova successes, that’s fine. And if Bon Jovi would rather break up the monotony by throwing in a few deep cuts at the expense of a purely greatest hits set, that’s their prerogative. But the way they went about it Friday night — with 13 of the 22 songs played coming from the year 2000 or later — had its drawbacks, which were readily apparent every time the crowd chose one of those tracks as an opportune time to sit down for a bit.
Bon Jovi can still bring it — the second half of the set was noticeably perkier than the first, and there were myriad moments of genuine joy throughout — but, if you’re being honest, you couldn’t help but come away from Friday’s show with the vaguely unsettling notion that they’ve lost a little something.
Opening song • The band came out behind a sheer curtain, onto which was projected the cover image from the album “This House Is Not for Sale.” The title track of the record, and the tour, for that matter, proved an energetic start to the evening that, unfortunately, could not be maintained.
Highlight • Though backing vocals duty often left much of the touring contingent strangely static, firmly rooted not too far from their microphones for much of the night, they finally, blessedly let loose during a spirited, freewheeling performance of “Keep the Faith.” An extended instrumental outro featuring solos by guitarist Phil X and keyboardist David Bryan saw the band let loose, with members freely roaming the stage, teaming up, and, at long last, appearing to let enthusiasm subsume rote precision.
Lowlight(s) • There were too many moments when traditional crowd-pleasers felt a bit flat and lifeless, with “We Weren’t Born to Follow” particularly sluggish. Part of this is directly attributable to the set choices, with the momentum gained from “You Give Love a Bad Name” quickly dissipating into tepid follow-ups of “Whole Lot of Leaving” and “Lost Highway.” Furthermore, the decision to include the likes of “Amen” and “We Got It Going On” (and everything else from “Lost Highway”) at the expense of, say, “Always,” “I’ll Be There for You,” “Blaze of Glory” — or, frankly, anything from the underrated “These Days” — was bizarre.
Crowd favorite(s) • ALL of the older hits — up to and including 2000’s “It’s My Life” — drew a raucous response, but the clear halcyon moment for the audience came with the evening-closing performances of “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” A close second came when JBJ ventured into the audience for back-to-back performances of “Amen” and “Bed of Roses” (with the crowd apparently willing to let proximity to the star distract them from the former of those songs being entirely forgettable).
Quotable • Having not performed in SLC since 2013, JBJ took a look around at Vivint Arena’s recent cosmetic improvements and noted with approval, “I like the way this place looks. This is nice!” He then went on to reference the band’s forthcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “This is the celebration run. From here, we’re going east — and making a quick stop in Cleveland, if you know what I mean.”
This House Is Not for Sale
You Give Love a Bad Name
Whole Lot of Leavin’
When We Were Us
Born to Be My Baby
Who Says You Can’t Go Home
It’s My Life
We Weren’t Born to Follow
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
We Got It Going On
Keep the FaithAmen
Bed of Roses
Lay Your Hands on Me
God Bless This Mess
Have a Nice Day
I Love This Town*
Wanted Dead or Alive*
Livin’ on a Prayer*
* — encore