BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Ten songs into a two-hour-plus romp, Bon Jovi went back to the very beginning.
Amber lights created a halo around David Bryan’s curls as he tapped out the signature opening of the band’s first hit, 1984’s “Runaway.”
There was no way Jon Bon Jovi, 56, was going to attempt the dog whistle yelp that punctuates the song’s ending, but he didn’t need to. Instead, he bounced like a boxer and grinned while guitarist Phil X shredded a solo and traded licks with producer/touring guitarist John Shanks.
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As the song smacked to a close, Jon said to the crowd, “It’s a long way from 1984 to the Hall of Fame in 2018.”
He was referring to, of course, Bon Jovi’s fan-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend , an honor that doesn’t signal that the end is nigh, but, rather, that these guys still got it goin’ on (as the song goes).
Anyone who has seen Bon Jovi on the band’s past couple of tours knows that Jon’s voice has lost its consistency. On this Friday night at Philips Arena, he swung from flat on “You Give Love a Bad Name” to stunningly soaring on “Bed of Roses”; a tad off-key during “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” to record-perfect for “Bad Medicine.”
But a Bon Jovi show has always been about not so much the show, but the showmanship. The band prefers a stage uncluttered by massive video screens and props (also, they can sell more seats behind an open-backed stage), with a focus on the music and Jon Bon Jovi’s expert frontman moves.
For 30-plus years, he’s been one of rock’s foremost leaders, with a stage presence stocked with sheer enthusiasm and unrelenting energy.
That hasn’t changed.
Whether playing to those behind-the-stage seats with swinging hips and aerobics class reaches during “Born to Be My Baby” or leading the fawning crowd in finger-jabbing defiance through “It’s My Life,” Jon Bon Jovi was captivating.
His mid-show stroll to perform “Amen” and “Bed of Roses” on a platform situated a few rows into a side section created the type of scrambling pandemonium typical at a Justin Timberlake or Harry Styles concert -- proof that the Bon Jovi brand hasn’t diminished.
Jon Bon Jovi heads into the crowd to perform "Amen," from the 2013 album, "What About Now":
Part of it is Jon Bon Jovi’s effortless swagger, his crinkle-eyed grin and genuine appreciation for the people still buying tickets.
The rest is the music.
Of course fans want to hear the well-worn anthems of their high school years – and the band delivered with a rich “Lay Your Hands on Me” and slinky “Keep the Faith,” led by bassist Hugh McDonald, among them - but Bon Jovi works hard to remain relevant and keep their music flowing through generations.
The band’s latest album, “This House is Not for Sale,” reissued for this second leg of this tour, isn’t going into the timeless bin with “New Jersey” or “Crush,” but there is a handful of keepers, including the punchy title track (which opened the concert) and “New Year’s Day,” which translated well live with Tico Torres’ thumping bass drum and chorus of “sha la la’”s.
While the presence of original guitarist Richie Sambora is still missed (the band reunited for their Rock Hall performance), there can be nothing but praise for the joyful guitar wizardry of Phil X.
At this point in the Bon Jovi lifespan, Jon and the gang don’t need to exhaust themselves through 21 songs and layers of sweat-drenched clothes.
But they do, because they’re still a band looking at the future.
Opening for Bon Jovi was Atlanta quintet The Howling Tongues . The band earned their slot as winners of a Rock 100.5 contest and projected confidence and impressive chops during the biggest 20-minute set of their seven-year existence.
Singer Davey Rockett led the band through soul-injected rockers including “Raw Power in a Red Dress” and “Belladonna,” and made an easy case that The Howling Tongues already belong on bigger stages.