Last night in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Q, Bon Jovi pulled out all those arena rock clichés, from leading the crowd through relentless sing-a-longs to encouraging fans to remain on their feet for the two-and-a-half hour’s concert’s duration. No sense of sarcasm here. “It’s a Bon Jovi concert. Get up on and out of your seats,” singer Jon Bon Jovi said at the concert’s start. “Now, that’s the Cleveland I love.” You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
The band began the set by performing the first few notes of “This House is Not For Sale,” the title track from its latest album, behind a giant black screen. The screen dropped to reveal an expansive stage that looked like a giant Erector set as metallic contraptions above and at the sides of the stage moved in unison with the music, shining spotlights on both stage and audience. At the end of “Knockout,” Bon Jovi traced his steps like his dance moves during the song had been choreographed. Constantly extending his arms up to the rafters, Bon Jovi seemed to simply go through the motions for the concert’s first half, delivering rote renditions of “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Lost Highway” and “Whole Lot of Leavin’,” during which he stopped mid-song to soak up some rapturous applause from the audience. His voice even faltered a bit in "It's My Life," and he missed a few notes.
After a rudimentary start to the show, Bon Jovi began to reminisce about the days when he and drummer Tico Torres, whom he described as “the heart and soul of the band,” would pester local DJ Kid Leo about playing their single on WMMS. He even impersonated Leo as he introduced the tune “Roller Coaster.”
From this point on, the concert became something personal. “You’re texting while I’m working,” he reprimanded one fan in the front row as the band ripped through “We Got it Goin' On,” a tune that sounded like a fight song for a high school football team. Right before the whimsical, Beatles-like “Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen From Mars,” he encouraged the band to “loosen it up,” and he hoisted his guitar high above his head.
Before playing “God Bless This Mess,” a tune from this House is Not For Sale
, Bon Jovi admitted that band had to experience what he called a “rebirth” in the wake of the departure of guitarist Richie Sambora in 2013. Headlines from various newspaper articles about the split showed on giant projection screens, and Bon Jovi talked about the important role that rock ’n’ roll has played in his life. “It made my heart skip a beat when I was 16,” he said before playing the tender ballad "Scars on This Guitar."
The stories Bon Jovi told provided some significant context for the songs on This House is Not for Sale
. Even if the lyrics relied on clichés (Bon Jovi's Achilles heel), the storyteller section of the concert gave the show some much needed intimacy and a sense of spontaneity.
For the concert’s final hour or so, Bon Jovi returned to playing nothing but the hits, churning out rousing renditions of “Bad Medicine,” a tune that turned into a serious jam, and the gospel-tinged “Keep the Faith” before returning for a three-song encore that featured “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Many of the 24 songs the band played last night featured hackneyed lyrics (with lines like “you were born to be my baby/baby, I was made to be your man”).
As much as Bon Jovi might be an American institution at the point its decades-long career, you certainly won’t mistake the band’s songs for the more nuanced (but every bit arena worthy) material in the catalogs of guys like Springsteen and Petty. In other words, last night’s concert lived up to the arena rock billing but with an asterisk.
The Akron-based garage-blues band the Ohio Weather won a contest to open for the group, and the guys fared well in their Quicken Loans Arena debut. With their skinny jeans and untucked shirts, they were probably too indie rock-oriented for the middle-aged audience but their organ and electric-guitar fueled songs often featured vigorous jams that managed to nicely fill the arena.
Back in the early ’90s when college rock darlings R.E.M. made the jump from clubs to arenas, the band satirized the arena rock approach by flashing text that read, “We’re so happy to be playing [insert name of city here].” R.E.M. mocked the arena rock approach of bands like Bon Jovi.