There he stood- like a battle torn warrior, looking like some kind of mythic figure in the flesh. You know, the guy who had his mug on the Editor’s page of RIP Magazine, the guy from Headbangers Ball, and the dude from “Behind the Music”. Standing mere feet in front of me was the one and only Lonn Friend. He had a beard and was wearing an Anthrax jacket…just like you would imagine back in 1993. At the time, I was too intimidated to go up and introduce myself…for the time being. Lonn wrote about the Bon Jovi concert and after being profoundly moved by it, I wrote to him and after a while, found myself in regular correspondence with him.
Bon Jovi is a band who has been under the microscope lately here at antiMusic. Trust me, I would love for nothing more than to herald them and their business decisions weekly, but far too many things have occurred this year for me to do so. One of the reasons we have been covering them is because many of us here feel invested in them. When they want to be, they can be the greatest live band on the planet. Bon Jovi is a band that I have always felt the mainstream press never truly got and largely still doesn’t. In the review below, you will find that Lonn’s recollection of this particular evening is beyond inspiring…it’s divine. This event is only given limited space in ‘Life On Planet Rock’ and to kick off the “from the vault” series of Lonn’s writings, I couldn’t think of a better piece to start with.
Here at antiMusic, we love music first and foremost and like opening people’s eyes, minds and hearts to artists in ways never deemed possible. In my humble opinion and regardless of the band’s current output, the review that follows is among the greatest ever composed on popular music. I hope you all enjoy what is hopefully the first of many "from the vault" articles by Lonn Friend.
November 20, 2007
Faith, Glory and Medicine for the Masses: Bon Jovi Blows Away the Windy City
By Lonn Friend
I've seen a million faces an I've rocked them all
I was standing in the backstage hallway of the Allstate Arena when the lights went down. Instantly, the 17,000 sold out faithful exploded into a thunderous din the likes of which I hadn't heard in years. As the band poured out of the dressing room to my left and headed for the stage, Jon Bon Jovi altered his course and grabbed my arm. "Lonn, go out to the front of the house!" he yelled in my ear at a volume barely audible above the hurricane crash shaking the massive room from the side to side. "You have to see the opening! Go!" With a high five from Richie, Dave, Tico and Hugh (McDonald, bassist), I dashed around stage right and battled my way to the sound board as the massive video screens extending the length of the performing platform high overhead lit up with images of the band members in varied behind the scenes wide-angle poses. As the camera follows their elevator ride to the stage, each Jersey boy mugs for the lens in a "pre-game mug" while the crowd reacts wildly to their faces with ascending explosive roar, crescendoed by Jon, smiling that disarming, street -born-rocker -done -good smile. The elevator doors open onto the stage and out walks Bon Jovi, alive, extremely well, and holding a secret they will shortly reveal to every single human body in the room over the two and a quarter hours: TONIGHT WILL BE AS GOOD AS IT GETS.
Vaulting into an exhilarating "One Wild Night," notice is served early that the five years the band's been away from the American road has spawned a magnificent hunger in not just the fans whose '80s/'90s support drove their multi -platinum star a mile or two past Alpha Centauri, but in the guys themselves. What isn't widely known across our great land is that the rest of the world -- namely Europe and Asia - have never blinked in their support of Bon Jovi and continue to pour out to stadiums in droves with an almost religious dedication no other band in the world except perhaps the Stones and Metallica can touch. Last month, they destroyed Wembly Stadium's 80,000 strong in what both press and public called one of the most awesome live rock events in U.K. history. As "Night" segued into the first classic of the evening, "You Give Love a Bad Name,"
I took off my Friend-of-the-band cap and began observing as the eternal, journalist/rock fan I've always been. What hit me instantly was the complete, almost mystical comfort the guys had with their instruments, their movement, and their performance. The comic book opus, "Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars" off the CD that resurrected Bon Jovi to the domestic commercial masses, Crush, brought Jon into interaction with the crowd and prepared the pulpit for the back to back uplifting anthems, "Faith" (wallpapered by some amazing, fast-cut political/spiritual images that married beautifully with the song) and "Living on a Prayer," a sing-a-long moment so splendid, I could not find a single set of jaws not flapping happily. The room was like a gargantuan campfire, one voice, one spirit, one helluva moment. Then came "Born to be my Baby" and the evening took on almost dreamlike qualities. They were five, but they were one. No, beyond that, they were 17,005, and they were one.
Bassist Hugh McDonald, who took over for Alec John Such during the Keep The Faith sessions, looks like he's always been in the band. His groove is tight, effortless, fluid. Drummer Tico Torres, the foundation on which the Bon Jovi building was constructed, has never hit 'em harder or with more confidence. He is passionate yet playful -- a bad-ass ballet of balance. Winding his keyboard textures around every melody, Dave Bryan's nimble fingers add the color to the black and white. His subtle yet articulate presence a joy for both eye and ear to behold. The set pulls back now for an acoustic "Runaway," the match that lit the Bon Jovi fire some 17 years ago. I note here that there are moments in the song where you can't even hear Jon's voice due to the volume in the building. The audience was almost Beatle-esque in their constant, unwavering mania. With surgical precision, the band then cut into Jon's solo classic, "Blaze of Glory," heightened to brave new levels by the players he knows best, a testimonial to the camaraderie once again shared most notably by Jon and Richie, whose "marriage" through the ages has been both rock solid and just plain rocky. Of this I speak as an insider, someone who's sat down at the Bon Jovi family table and broken bread many times since I first met them in the early RIP days on the New Jersey tour. Jon and Richie are the epitome of that rare and amazing frontman/guitar hero metaphor. They're strength and success has always come from the combination of their individual talents/energies: the synergy of the magnetic, superstar vocalist and the reserved, cool, soulful shredder. There was a time they battled for the same turf. No more. Wisdom gained from time and experience has fostered a mutual respect so strong, no outer or inner forces of evil can tear it apart. Richie Sambora is one of rock's great guitarists, both in his deftless picking and bigger than life onstage persona. He strikes the musician's pose with a humble confidence, sans pretense, never overshadowing the Man. Like Page, Perry, Richards, Slash, Edge…they complete the picture, occasionally stealing the show, but forever content with the on deck circle.
"It's My Life" soared out of "Blaze," an anthem of both resurrection and affirmation. For those in the "business" who - cloaked in their flavor of the moment "new" rock fascinations - were shoveling dirt on the Bon Jovi casket a couple years ago, this song was a bolt of on-high lightning. Again, the masses sang, in unison, in spirit, loud and proud. This track contains a very simple line but one of the best I believe Jon's ever written. "I just wanna live while I'm alive." We live in an oft times toxic culture where good people get sucked into death and depression because they forget what a miracle it is just to be here. Existence replaces living. It doesn't matter if Jon Bon Jovi's motivation in life is money, power, fame, enlightenment, philanthropy, ego or an eclectic mixture of the above, the effect he has on those real people, those precious, wonderful fans who take their hard earned pennies just to be present for a couple hours of entertainment - in this way, he dons the hat of prophet. Like his neighborhood hero Bruce Springsteen, he preaches the gospel of rock to throngs who gather for a couple hours to just plain feel good about themselves, their lives, and the fact that they've been blessed with an archetypal love of the most inspiring music on earth: rock n' roll. Prepare for a digression.
During "I'll Be There for You," I was standing on the stage on Richie's side where two dozen fans each night get the band's eye view of the festivities. God Bless Metallica for the Snake Pit tour, the first time a band invited the fan up top for a view. The perspective is breathtaking. Korn, Limp Bizkit and others have taken the cue over the last decade, enhancing the concert experience for a lucky few each night. Anyway, I noticed a girl standing twenty feet away pressed up against the barricade in front of the stage. She was throwing me that "pleading stare," the one you get sometimes when you've got a laminate (all access pass) around your neck. Her teary eyes wrestled from their fixation on Jon, to me, back to Jon. I walked down to address her as the song soared toward its finale. I've come to identify those whose passion for certain artists go beyond the normal parameters of "fan." "Please, please, please, I just want to touch him," she grabbed my arm, begging, her face wet, a shimmering lakebed of pain and pleasure. This was one of those precious children (I guessed her age around 20) so deeply immersed in the "star," she would undoubtedly go to questionable lengths just for a lock of her hero's hair. My heart cracked as I stared into her desperate eyes. I went backstage and copied the band's set list and brought it back out for her, a sorry consolation prize, but all I was willing to offer. I was stricken with a bit of guilt when the set was over. Hey, an introduction wouldn't be so hard, but unfortunately, I couldn't find her. The disappearance inspired me to bring a couple other fans backstage with posters and introduce them to Jon just before we departed the venue for the hotel. If the girl with the set list ever reads this, send it to me and I'll get it signed for you; maybe with a few strands of Jon's hair thrown in for good measure.
The show was supposed to end with "Wanted Dead or Alive," but there was no way this madhouse was going to disperse without more. Not one body had left the building, sat down, or stopped screaming at the top of their lungs. The band came back with a spirited "Twist and Shout," after which they attempted again to leave, but Jon stood at the front of stage, soliciting more from what he confessed later to me was one of the best audiences he had ever played for. The exclamation point of the evening proved to be a sweet yet soaring "Never Say Goodbye." It was only the flaring of the house lights that finally sent the crowd out into the 20 degree Chicago night, satiated from a performance they will be calling their friends about tomorrow, and telling their kids about when they grow up and ask mom or dad about the "good ol' days of rock n' roll," and that little band from New Jersey. The one that saw a million faces, and rocked 'em all.
Special thanks to Rob Grabowski for use of his photos.