Last Night: Bon Jovi At Toyota Center

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Bon Jovi Toyota Center May 17, 2011

Keep the faith with Bon Jovi and their hordes of Houston fans in our slideshow.

It's no easy feat to emerge relatively unscathed from the ruins of the '80s metal boom. Bon Jovi's more glam-oriented contemporaries can no longer hope to fill the big arenas (though we understand you can catch Whitesnake and Warrant at Coushatta this weekend), and while Jon and the boys certainly exploited the spandex and Aqua Net trappings of that era to their full advantage, you could tell they craved something that eluded their peers: Legitimacy.

Because when you get down the nuts and bolts of it, Bon Jovi's appeal has always rested on their ability to match power chord to cliché. Look at some of those song titles: "The More Things Change?" "Have a Nice Day?" "Keep the Faith?" You wonder sometimes if JBJ eats a lot of fortune cookies.

But what can't be denied is the man's ability to work a crowd. There is a dearth of rock and roll showmen here in the new millennium, but even at 49 years of age, the formerly leonine lead singer pranced, cajoled, and posed his way into the audience's heart at Toyota Center last night.

Put another way, he saw 20,000 faces, and he rocked them all.

The band came out to an animated opening sequence that looked like TRON as directed by Michael Bay, and they didn't open especially strong. "Lost Highway" is one of those songs that makes people think of the New Jersey band as "Sprinsgteen lite," with its talk of "dashboard Jesuses" and "half a tank of gas." But from there the band kicked into "You Give Love a Bad Name," and the crowd was his.

When we say JBJ is a poser, we mean it in the best possible - literal - way. He's honed his stage presence over three decades of performances into a well-oiled fist pumping, foot stomping machine, and the audience licked it up. To quote another, more flamboyant rock group.

"Born to Be My Baby" was next, followed by another relative clunker, "We Weren't Born to Follow" from their most recent release, the underwhelming Circle. The quasi-motivational visuals on the otherwise impressive video system didn't help, as the color palette was obviously meant to remind us of those Obama "Hope" ads. It's cool, because we know JBJ's an Obama guy, Aftermath just wasn't sure Oprah Winfrey belongs in the same stratum as Winston Churchill.

For "Runaway," JBJ said he was taking us back in his time machine to the Summit ("I was there once!"), and we must admit, for those three minutes he could have led 20,000 people burning and looting their way through downtown Houston. Pray he never uses his powers for evil.

Aftermath has to say, the dude - no, the whole band really - looked pretty great. Compare JBJ to Vince Neil or Jani Lane (not to keep picking on Warrant) or most other 1980s "survivors." Clean living pays off, we guess.

Now they tell us.

The only moment that smacked of fogey-ness was during "The More Things Change," when JBJ derided Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, reminding us all they'd been preceded by the likes of Ice-T and Madonna. Surely a rock singer from New Jersey doesn't want to get into a pissing match about who's aping who, does he?

And that's because Aftermath is convinced that what Jon Bon Jovi desperately wants is to lead one of those legendary Springsteenian three-hour plus concert events like his Garden State bro, but it'll never happen because the band's material won't support it, and his audience probably wouldn't stand for it.

Though we will say this: as accustomed as we've become to suburban Houston crowds bailing on shows at the 9:30 or 10 p.m. mark (See: Heart) to get back to Cinco Ranch or Fairfield or whatever, we only saw a handful of people drifting out before show's end. Give the guy credit for that.

And give the rest of the band credit for another kind of consistency, hair style. Jon cropped his tresses long ago, to be sure, but drummer Tico Torres is now the oldest living soul patch wearer (now that SRV is dead) and keyboardist David Bryan still has that fucking Bo Derek perm. It was all rather...comforting.

Not that Aftermath misses spandex, heavens no.

The intimate acoustic portion of the show found Jon alone on a walkway that separated his VIP ticketholders from the floor seats. "What Do You Got?," "(You Want To) Make a Memory" and "I'll Be There For You" were all well-received. Especially by the fiftysomething woman who honest-to-god started crying when Jon acknowledged her handmade sign. Wow.

Of course, there was one notable absence. Longtime guitarist Richie Sambora left the tour to enter rehab late last month, though his slack was picked up capably by guitarist Phil X. There was only one mention of the missing Sambora, when JBJ encouraged a singalong during "Wanted: Dead or Alive" that could be "heard in California."

We assumed that's where he's rehabbing, and not because Bon Jovi was making a statement about the Schwarzenegger thing.

"Livin' on a Prayer" closed out the show, to much delight. Admittedly, Aftermath were never really fans of the band (we may have actually pointed and laughed at a dude wearing a Slippery When Wet T-shirt in high school), but we can't deny his ability to work a crowd or his showmanship. Last night's show was one of those concerts where the crowd was often louder than the band. And in a good way, not that usual Verizon Theater "where are we going after the show?" Houston rudeness.

As for us,...work in some Bruce covers next time and we'll see.

Personal Bias: Our "ironic" appreciation for '80s hair bands never extended to Bon Jovi, sorry to say. It didn't help that our college freshman year roommate stayed up all night one Friday practicing the opening riff to "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

The Crowd: Mostly fortysomethings and above, doing their damndest to stand up for the whole show. Bunions, though.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I love you Jon Bon Jovi!"

Random Notebook Dump: "I'm glad I brought an extra pair of panties to throw on stage during 'Runaway.' Yes...my panties."


Lost Highway
You Give Love a Bad Name
Born to Be My Baby
We Weren't Born to Follow
It's My Life
The More Things Change
We Got It Going On
Bad Medicine/Roadhouse Blues/Shout/Old Time Rock & Roll
Lay Your Hands On Me
What Do You Got?
(You Want To) Make a Memory
I'll Be There For You
Who Says You Can't Go Home
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
In These Arms
Have a Nice Day
Keep the Faith


Someday I'll Be
Saturday Night
Wanted: Dead or Alive
Livin' on a Prayer

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