Review: Bon Jovi, older and wiser, shows Tampa's Amalie Arena lots of Valentine's Day love
Jon Bon Jovi was pacing the stage, racking his brain, trying to remember the name of the Tampa rock station that first played their debut single Runaway back in 1984. He could remember the DJ, Ron Diaz, but he couldn’t remember the call letters. So he grabbed a mic and quizzed the audience.
"Bonus points on Valentine's Day for the first girl who can tell me the name," he challenged the crowd of 18,000 during Bon Jovi’s concert Tuesday at Amalie Arena. "I'm going to come down to give you kisses."
Finally, he got the answer he was looking for: 95YNF.
"YNF," he said. "Come on down, girl."
Into the breach he hopped, about to give to give some screaming Jersey girl the Valentine's gift of her life.
Yeah, love was in the air Tuesday in Tampa, albeit not quite the ripped-denim, lion-maned variety that made John Francis Bongiovi such a sex symbol in the ‘80s. And ‘90s. And 2000s. And okay, fine, the dude still looks pretty dreamy at 54.
But this was, no doubt, an older and earthier Bon Jovi on display, a group of 50- and 60-something rock vets who still ride hard for Tommy on the docks and Gina from the diner, but who’ve been through the wringer since their last Tampa visit.
Bon Jovi’s 13th album This House Is Not For Sale was their first without iconic guitarist Richie Sambora, who split from the group in 2013. Bon Jovi isn’t known for getting serious, but with every member decked in simple dad-rock black, and a set a little harder and heavier than fans might’ve expected, it felt like the group was out to prove its muscle.
“I wouldn’t wish anybody to go through that kind of twists and turns in the road,” Bon Jovi said of the band’s recent history. “But they always tell you, when you come through the other side, you’re going to be bigger, better, stronger.”
It’s hard to deny missing Sambora’s arching arias squealing through the rafters, especially on monster ballads like Bed Of Roses or Always (neither of which, oddly, got a spin on this Valentine’s Day show). But with Sambora’s replacement Phil X on his left (“He showed up when we needed him most, and he’s been here ever since,” JBJ said), the gracefully graying singer flashed enough Hollywood panache for them both.
Watch him up there, prancing and stomping and strutting around the 360-degree stage, pursing his lips and pumping his fists and grinning like a matinee idol. This was full-on Rock Star Johnny, a far cry from the serious solo star who headlined a voter rally with Tim Kaine last fall in St. Petersburg. Whether he was singing a country-tinged rocker like Lost Highway or a spur-clanking duster like Wanted Dead or Alive, Bon Jovi worked his workmanlike magic from the floor to the very back rows. Even a brief tribute to Prince – a line from the invocation to Let’s Go Crazy with the floor bathed in purple light – he delivered in a flash, so as not to distract from all the dazzle.
The setlist matched This House Is Not For Sale’s focused, serious vibe, with 63-year-old drummer Tico Torres – “the heart and soul of this band,” Bon Jovi said – pushing the band through a nonstop train of driving cuts like Blood on Blood and boogie-woogie assault I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. David Bryan’s keys added funky fuel to Born to Be My Baby, Bad Medicine and the vivaciously voodoo-infused Keep the Faith. And 21st century cuts like Have a Nice Day and It’s My Life sounded just as meaty as undeniable karaoke classics You Give Love a Bad Name (third song!) and Livin’ On a Prayer (the inevitable closer, because what else could possibly top it?).
Before playing the crunching God Bless This Mess, a standout from This House Is Not For Sale, Bon Jovi took a moment to shout out Gainesville photographer Jerry Uelsmann, who snapped the image that inspired the album’s title.
“I was hoping he’d be here to see his work up here tonight,” Bon Jovi said. “I want him to know that we’re very grateful, because that picture of that proud house, with those deep roots, that was the name, it hit me right there: This House Is Not For Sale.”
After more than three decades, Bon Jovi still knows how to make a Florida crowd feel special. Only one fan walked away with a Valentine’s Day kiss. But everyone else felt the love.
-- Jay Cridlin