If Jon Bon Jovi is an expert on anything, it's vitality.
The man loves to sing about livin' life and lovin' livin' and lovin' lettin' loose. And that's okay, because the one thing Bon Jovi does best is inhibit inhibitions, making fans feel safe to live out loud as they scream like the kings of karaoke.
On Friday, before a sold-out crowd of 18,492 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and many thousands more around the globe, thanks to a live stream on BonJovi.com as Bon Jovi serenaded the crowd with three hours of hair metal hits, thrusting and gyrating and wailing until everyone felt just as vital as him.
The show came two weeks before the band releases its 12th album, What About Now, but that fact was almost immaterial. Sure, they played the new stuff, and some of it even sounded like vintage Bon Jovi as fans raised their hands just as much during Because We Can as they did on, well, 1986's Raise Your Hands.
But when a Bon Jovi concert kicks off with "SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, AND YOU'RE TO BLAME!", it's hard not to get amped about the classics. And JBJ, who turns 51 today, thrusted and gyrated through them all, from You Give Love a Bad Name to second-encore smash Livin' on a Prayer.
An open, circular stage provided unobstructed sight lines for most in the arena — that is, until a backdrop of giant video columns began to rise and fall behind the stage. You felt bad for the suckers stuck behind them — that is, until 2006's bluesy We Got It Goin' On. Up and down the singer pranced upon the undulating columns, wagging his fingers, hips and lips to the crowd, and oh, you better believe the kiddies came running down the aisles for a peek.
Was it shameless and silly? Of course!
Did it still make you want to get up there and dance right alongside him? Absolutely! That's just who Jon Bon Jovi is!
Even on power ballads like the lady-baiting Bed of Roses — with those edge-of-ecstasy solos from, as Bon Jovi put it, "the very single Richie Sambora" — made looking uncool look oh-so-very cool indeed. He prowled the stage's catwalk as if straddling a piano, dodging and catching roses and scarves from the crowd — and, it must be said, never once missing that high note in the chorus.
If Bon Jovi was the people-pleaser, Sambora was the golden god, grinding away on his arsenal of double-necked axes in burgundy leather pants (as is every rock star's god-given right). And when the singer left the stage during the maraca-powered Keep the Faith, the song veered into vintage Rolling Stones territory, with David Bryan delivering a fierce, fiery organ solo.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has yet to come calling for Bon Jovi, but an even bigger institution just might. Eleven months from today, Super Bowl XLVIII will take place at the Meadowlands. Could there be a better story than New Jersey's oldest teenager coming home to headline halftime?
Jon Bon Jovi is everything we want of our aging rockers, in that he simply does not age. And when he hits those high notes, and we meet him right there at the top of our lungs, neither do we.