Six songs into Bon Jovi's sold-out show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Jon Bon Jovi took a moment to praise the City of Brotherly love, particularly its local radio stations.
"It's really cool when you can come down to Philly and know that you are being played on the classic rock and the adult contemporary [stations]. " he told the crowd. "And it's all right with me when that DJ that is driving you home from work, or he is taking you home from school and he is getting you back to your baby's arms, and he says 'Hello, Philadelphia, this is [WMMR's] Pierre Robert with Bon Jovi and their new hit single, 'Rollercoaster.'"
Later in the show, Bon Jovi marveled that the band just released its 17th album, This House Is Not For Sale, and (in an audible that he laughed kept the band "on its toes") led the crowd in a backwards yearly countdown to 1983, when "a young punk kid walks into a brand-new radio station, knocks hard on the DJ's booth and says, 'Hey mister, I've got the right chords and a full belly, what you say you do a little favor for me, and in three minutes and thirty seconds, all the world will see is a rock and roll star.'"
Joking that the song "Runaway" can now be heard on oldies stations, in those two separate moments it was easy to see why a band like Bon Jovi endures and continues to release albums that go straight to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and remain staples in multiple radio formats. It's the songs, and at Friday night's (March 31) show, the band took the crowd on a 25-song journey that mixed the set list with a healthy assortment of hits, deep cuts and new material that showed just how deep the roots on its "house" are set.
"The stories... you know them," he told the audience. "You helped me write them."
Opening with the title track, "This House is Not for Sale," Bon Jovi quickly set the theme as a backdrop of the album cover transfixed the singer in the doorway, inviting the audience into its home, if you will. Even the lighting rig above the stage resembled a roof. The band performed in an open setting, without giant video screens on either side of the stage that sometimes obscure the view of those seated on the side.
Dressed all in black with a leather jacket he didn't remove until late in the concert, Bon Jovi worked the stage like a prize fighter, directing the audience in sing-alongs, playing to the fans behind the stage and even making his way up the stairs on the first mezzanine to give concertgoers an up close and personal look.
"It's a Bon Jovi concert," he said. "I want you out of those seats."
He meant it, too. For two hours and 25 minutes, the 55-year old frontman did not let up, flashing his million dollar smile and playing all rockers with only two ballads - the new "Scars on This Guitar" and later "The Fighter," arming himself with an acoustic guitar - before playing the rock and roll national anthem "Wanted Dead or Alive" for all the "cowboys" in the audience.
The band - keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, bassist Hugh McDonald, percussionist Everett Bradley, guitarist/producer John Shanks and new axman Phil X - added muscle and vigor to the show, particularly in the rollicking "Sleep When I'm Dead," the deeper "Whole Lot of Leavin'" and "Lost Highway." Bon Jovi himself seems invigorated in the post-Richie Sambora era, tackling lead guitar himself and directing the band on every beat, strum and vocal like the seasoned professional he is.
For further evidence of how tight this band is, Bon Jovi stopped "We Weren't Born to Follow" dead in its tracks because he felt his voice wasn't up to par.
"This song is too important to me," he said, before beginning again. It was as if the needle dropped at the beginning of the song once more, with nary a note out of tune.
The biggest takeaway of the evening is just how much fun the audience was having, and it wasn't lost on the musicians on stage. Torres in particular - whom Bon Jovi described as the heart of the band - is in fine form, driving the show with power in every song. The man is simply a beast behind the kit, and his work on the newer material, especially "New Years Day," is instrumental in its current sound. It's also hard to imagine a Bon Jovi show without Bryan - his work on "Runaway" and "Bad Medicine" excites the crowd every time. It's hard not to get caught up in it when he unleashes it on cue. Phil X is a fun addition, too, smiling the entire show and contributing tasty licks as well as taking on Sambora's iconic talk box on "We Got It Goin' On" and "Livin' on a Prayer." It's fortunate that the guitarist answered the so-called "Bat Phone" in the group's time of need, as Bon Jovi told the crowd.
While the show was heavy on the band's history, the new album received love with a three-song stretch that included "We Don't Run" (first included on the fan album "Burning Bridges"), "God Bless This Mess" (in which he took the time to speak the lyrics before delivering the song) and "New Year's Day" after the condensed version of the group's fall tour, in which a "live listening party" introduced the record. A quick return to the "hits" then ignited the arena with a stretch that began with "Lay Your Hands on Me," "Born to Be My Baby" and "Have a Nice Day" (minus the middle finger salute Sambora used to wield back in the day).
By the time the group reached the final song, "Livin' On a Prayer," it was evident that the band and audience will continue to take the ride into the future, which hopefully will include stadium shows for the summer.
"Thank you," Bon Jovi said. "You've been on our journey together riding shotgun together they whole way."
In a full circle moment, opening band Mach 22, the winner of the group's opening band contest, performed a 20-minute set for the audience. The band features guitarist Sebastian LaBar, whose father, Jeff, was a member of Philadelphia metal legends Cinderella ("Shake Me," "Nobody's Fool"), who scored a record deal with Mercury/Polygram records after Jon Bon Jovi saw them at the Empire Rock Club and convinced his A&R man to check them out, leading to a record deal.
"This House Is Not for Sale"
"You Give Love a Bad Name"
"Whole Lot of Leavin'"
"We Weren't Born to Follow"
"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead"
"We Got It Goin' On"
"Who Says You Can't Go Home"
"It's My Life"
"We Don't Run"
"God Bless This Mess"
"Scars on This Guitar"
"New Year's Day"
"Lay Your Hands on Me"
"Born to Be My Baby"
"Have a Nice Day"
"Keep the Faith"
"Raise Your Hands"
"The Fighter" (Snippet)
"Wanted Dead or Alive"
"Livin' on a Prayer"