If there was a modern day award for ‘Mr Showbiz’ it would have to be handed to Jon Bon Jovi, who last week returned to Ireland for two nights at the RDS and a spot of knee surgery. Even though Bruce Springsteen would probably be the rightful holder of the award – there’s no show like a Boss show – Jon Bon would have to get it for the fact that no one can do fake sincerity quite like him. When he told the 30,000 at the RDS on the second night of a pair of Irish dates that he was about to go “over the edge” with excitement you knew right well that he didn’t mean a word of it. When he invited the now haggard looking axe man Richie Sambora down to the edge of an audience walkway for an “impromptu” acoustic set, you knew right well it had been rehearsed to within an inch of its life. And when he started harping on about paying credit card bills from a chequebook on your kitchen table you knew right well that the last time this man signed a cheque Ronald Regan was President. But for most of the fans gathered in the unseasonal summer sun in this leafy arena in Dublin 4, Jon Bon Jovi can do and say whatever the heck he wants so long as he plays a few numbers from “Slippery When Wet”, the quintessential American 80’s ‘metal’ album that even your mother liked.
Judging by the amount of Stetson hats, denim and faded tour t-shirts among the largely tipsy crowd, there were plenty of people here for whom Bon Jovi is still the epitome of the American Dream. As a band they may not make records half as good or as energetic as they used to and they will never be fashionable again, but they will always fill arenas and leave the audience satisfied. And they did just that last Thursday, June 30th.
The band came on stage right on cue at 8pm in ridiculous sunlight. Their million-dollar stage (which oddly resembled Pink Floyd’s 1994 ‘Division Bell’ set up) was rendered completely redundant for the first hour or so, and but for the familiar twang of ‘Blaze of Glory’ seven songs in I reckon half the crowd thought they were still watching the support band. The level of boozy chat around the back of the arena was incredible. One would have expected the crowd to have had a few beers and the odd glass of white wine but I genuinely never expected the levels of drunken apathy that seemed to start at the sound desk and continue to the back. It seemed that for large sections of the audience this was an evening of al fresco drinking with a few celebs thrown in. You might expect it at a festival but not at a show like this for which premium prices were paid. At one stage a fella beside us wondered if the people in the stands were at a different gig as they seemed to be clapping and roaring at different times to those of us on the pitch.
As the sun shone straight into their faces the band seemed a little lethargic and not as into it as you would have imagined, especially considering this was the second of two sold out nights. Jon Bon was dishing out the “you’re the best” nonsense from stage and pointing at whoever had a flag in the air, but it wasn’t registering down the back. However, once the sun dropped sufficiently enough for the million-dollar lightshow and screens to come alive, the show and band came alive concurrently.
It was the now legendary cheesy rallying cry of “is there a doctor in the house?” that got the show off to a (very) belated start and woke up the audience from a boozy slumber. The medical query heralded the arrival of “Bad Medicine”, which 20-odd years on is still one of the all-time greats. A truly classic classic rock song. Then, a most unusual thing – a pile of cover versions! Does a band with however many hundred songs need to tip their hat at other bands? Did we all pay money to see Bon Jovi in the hope of hearing The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up”, The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and U2’s “Vertigo”. Apparently we did. And as if to cement our relationship with other people’s songs, later on we got to hear The Who’s “Squeezebox”. But the less said about it the better. The U2 song was a nice touch, and truth be told they played it incredibly well, but it was a surreal few minutes.
Anyhow, after they got the jukebox section out of their system hits you knew and hits you forgot you knew started to arrive in droves. “Never Say Goodbye”, “Keep the Faith”, “Saturday Night”, “Have a Nice Day”, “Always” and the brilliant “Living On A Prayer” all followed, as did some awful shite like “I Love This Town” (which sealed the deal on Jon Bon winning the Mr Showbiz Award for false schmaltz) and the final song, “Love’s The Only Rule” which really should have played early on; Or not at all as it was with this song that Jon “identified” with us oppressed Irish, all sitting huddled in our kitchens writing cheques to our credit card companies…
When all was said and done the show was, without question, superb value for money. The band clocked in a set that lasted close to three hours and despite their roots in arena metal, there were no lengthy solos for Big Tico Torres (an incredibly under-rated powerhouse of a drummer), the aforementioned Sambora (who must have been dying for ten minutes alone with 30,000 and his selection of double-necked guitars) and poodle-permed keyboard player David Bryan (surely the luckiest man in rock). Despite a knee injury which limited his buck-lepping, Jon Bon Jovi was a consummate frontman, giving it socks throughout. When he nodded, winked and pointed to members of the audience, there may have been a thousand yard stare in his eyes but he never once let his mask slip. One wonders what he thought of the insane levels of drinking that was going on behind the ‘Gold Circle’ VIP standing area. Covers aside, the set took in material from ten albums and with 28 years of history to trawl through they were incredibly generous to each of those albums. However, given the mental reactions to the stone-cold classic material from the ‘Slippery When Wet’ album – five tracks from it were played – one suspected that a little more of this would have helped to keep the bar profits down.
The night before, they played an entirely different set, with only a couple of songs doubling up over the two nights, it must have been heaven on earth if you were a true, out and out Bon Jovi fan with the means to attend both concerts. One night was satisfying enough for most and despite not being blown away I was glad to have broken my Bon Jovi duck. But for some long-forgotten adolescent crisis back in 1989 I nearly saw them play the old Point Depot and as they returned year after year to places like Lansdowne Road and Croke Park I always had a hankering to see them but never did. Last week the chance to finally break the duck arose, and even if I won’t be back to an arena full of boozy Bon Jovi fans again, I’m sure there will always be 60,000 of them there for Mr Showbiz and his band.