Jon Bon Jovi and his namesake band played their adopted hometown’s Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night loudly and in the name of Philly rock-radio giant WMMR’s 50th anniversary, adding another anthem-driven layer of celebration to an already fever-pitch party.
Say what you will about Bon Jovi’s past in “hair metal” hits; it’s a far cry from the more serious mix of the socially aware, hopeful, and realistically romantic music that populates 2016’s This House is Not for Sale. What band and singer made in concert and in their maturity — Jon is 56 — is gentlemen’s rock, hard and sultry.
This is what gray-hair metal can be in the right hands, and nobody does it better than these guys.
That sense of renewal was expressed when the band started the program with the title tune from their most recent album, a record that Bon Jovi reminded the audience went to No. 1 not once, but twice. A story about integrity and pride in the deep roots we build (and allow to disintegrate) might not have seemed like a gleeful opener. Yet its sense of moving on from hurt and heartache – a reference to the disappearance of longtime guitarist/co-composer Richie Sambora – played well with its immediate successors in the punky “Raise Your Hands” and the sassy “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
With that last track, Bon Jovi turned into equal parts aerobics instructor, cheerleader, and showman as he cajoled the audience for continued applause, hailed the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory with a verse of “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” and wished WMMR well on its 50th. Along with reminding the crowd of how fortunate it was to have longstanding rock radio, he shouted out South Street and how the band’s 1985 album 7800° Fahrenheit was recorded at the Warehouse off Spring Garden.
Bon Jovi ripped through the John Steinbeck-meets-Desmond Child snort of “Lost Highway,” the Phil Spectorish “Born to Be My Baby,” and the roughhouse call-and-response of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” with heart and ripened harmony. Only during the harmonies were Sambora and his high voice missed. Newer lead guitarist Phil X, bass guitarist Hugh McDonald, and longtime drummer Tico Torres filled the void nicely, but you couldn’t help feeling a pang of remorse. But then there was Bon Jovi next to you — well, me — singing the dreamy “Bed of Roses” in Wells Fargo Center’s side section. Along with that stellar, winning, warbling voice and a hard tale of drinking, carousing, and forgetting, this reviewer couldn’t help but marvel at JBJ’s teeth. Man, those are great shiny choppers.
This gentleman rocker and his crew rode out the night playing everything from early, spunky smashes such as the synth-stabby “Runaway” and rarities like “Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars” (allowing David Bryant to show off his boogie-woogie piano chops) to elegiac encore moments such as a countryish “Dry County” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.”