Bon Jovi | Photo by Paul Citone

Eighteen Thousand Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong

The New Jersey band delighted serious fans at a sold-out T-Mobile Arena show on St. Patty’s night.

There are two versions of Bon Jovi. The first dominated ’80s hard-rock radio with big-hair classics “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” When you heard these, you knew they were desert-island tracks. The second version of Bon Jovi is a subdued soft-rock ensemble responsible for “Have a Nice Day” and “It’s My Life,” tunes constructed to push U2 out of the way. A casual fan with only Slippery When Wet in my collection, I went to T-Mobile Arena and endured singer Jon Bon Jovi’s chicken-walking in a dark blazer and red T-shirt, and the acoustic guitar he strummed. I waited in anticipation for “Runaway” and “I’d Die for You,” which never came to be. That’s because the band are an adult-contemporary hit machine, so they don’t need to stick to Slippery. They have hits across four decades.

Photos by Paul Citone

Including this one. Early in the set, Mr. Bon Jovi announced his band now has the No. 1 album, This House Is Not for Sale. Thanks to bundling, the 2016 release is back on top. (Every ticket-paying concertgoer on this tour receives a digital copy of the record.) Fourteen songs in, the band only performed two ’80s cuts (“Born to Be My Baby,” “You Give Love a Bad Name”). The rest was squishy, sleepy, middle-of-the-road fare like “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” and a woeful “When We Were Us.” It wasn’t for lack of effort. Longtime drummer Tico Torres struck the skins mightily; veteran keyboardist David Bryan was on fire. But minus the distinctive soloing of lead guitarist Richie Sambora (who left the band in 2013 and was replaced by Phil X), it was like watching the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards.

In any case, Bon Jovi didn’t strive to please critics. Why should they? Hard-core fans loved every note; their roaring approval and sing-along enthusiasm were infectious. That’s what matters. And the encore (“Prayer,” “Dead or Alive”) satisfied everyone.

Still, I can’t believe the band didn’t play “Runaway.”