The recession seems to be dragging down CD and concert ticket sales, but there’s apparently still room for superstars in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Witness Bon Jovi, who partied like it was 1989 in suburban Detroit on Feb. 20 for a capacity crowd of 23,000 lunar eclipse-stoked fans. It was the very encapsulation of a Big Rock Show, arena style; two hours and 15 minutes filled with energy, eye candy and a jukebox worth of hits.
The energy part was perhaps most impressive. Twenty five-plus years on, Bon Jovi maintains the capital R in its rock show. On a state-of-the-art stage with more moving parts than James Brown in his prime, the band came out swinging with the buoyant “hey heys” of the title track from its latest album, 2007’s “Lost Highway,” before pounding through “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Raise Your Hands” and “Runaway.”
With fans seated not just in front of the stage, but encircling it, the band didn’t break tempo for 75 solid minutes before finally pulling back for a trio of ballads. And frontman Jon Bon Jovi — still leather-jacket fit at 45 — performed two of those three, “(You Want To) Make a Memory” and “Bed of Roses,” up close and personal from a small satellite stage at the center west side of the Palace floor.
What Bon Jovi does so well is hew to a formula without being formulaic. The group, and particularly Bon Jovi himself, is an update of the same model perfected by Garden State forebears such as Gary U.S. Bonds, Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny. Like them, Bon Jovi mixes soulful spirit with rock ‘n’ roll exuberance and the tirelessness of a seaside bar band — just on a massive, arena-shaking scale.
The stage itself also provided plenty of spectacle at the Palace show. Four of seven video screens occasionally morphed into slatted, Venetian blind-style backdrops and a rear section inclined at various angles, serving as both another screen for projections and also allowing Bon Jovi to get a bit closer to the fans in those sections.
All of that eye candy would have been empty rock ‘n’ roll calories, however, if Bon Jovi and company didn’t have the musical goods. But they surely did. The group, expanded to seven with fiddle player Lorenza Ponce and extra guitarist Bobby Bandiera, dynamically worked through a half-dozen tracks from “Lost Highway” — whose Nashville influence could be heard on “Whole Lot of Leavin’ ” and the show-closing “I Love This Town” — and laced bits of rock classics (Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”) into its own songs.
But the Bon Jovi originals were the stars of the night, whether it was hits such as “Bad Medicine,” “Born to Be My Baby,” “It’s My Life,” “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the dependable singalong “Livin’ on a Prayer,” or album tracks like “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” and “Keep the Faith.” Guitarist Richie Sambora took a vocal turn on “I’ll Be There For You” (which allowed Bon Jovi to sneak into the crowd for his ballads) and David Bryan reminded fans how integral his keyboards are to the group’s sound on songs like “Runaway” and “Complicated.”
Bon Jovi treated the show as a sort of second-home homecoming of sorts, too, noting that Detroit embraced the group even before its first album, when “Runaway” was included on a local station’s sampler album. He also spoke of running into Bob Seger smoking a cigarette on the loading dock at a basketball game the night before, acknowledging the influence of Seger’s “Turn the Page” on “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
Hopefully Daughtry is gleaning some lessons from all this. The group, fronted by “American Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry, opened the night with a comparatively flat 40-minutes of material from its multi-platinum debut album, including the hits “It’s Not Over,” “Over You,” “Crashed” and “Home.” Daughtry, who complained of having a cold, started the latter with a snippet of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home,” but, particularly in the wake of Bon Jovi’s fusillade, the prime time TV hero is still on his way to achieving the same kind of status in the rock concert world.