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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Review: Bon Jovi fails to hit the high notes at Abu Dhabi concert

The band’s first outing to begin without longterm guitarist Richie Sambora – a low-pressure 12-city jaunt around Asia – was already struck by calamity, with three shows cancelled due to government intervention (in China) and a typhoon (in Taiwan). Arriving in Abu Dhabi for the penultimate night on Thursday, one felt a certain sense of hang-on-and-hope in the air.
Jon Bon Jovi and his band rocked fans at the du Arena in Abu Dhabi last night. Before the gig Jon Bon Jovi released a video for fans telling them that if they think it is hot in Abu Dhabi right now then wait until they arrive.  Delores Johnson / The National
Jon Bon Jovi and his band rocked fans at the du Arena in Abu Dhabi last night. Before the gig Jon Bon Jovi released a video for fans telling them that if they think it is hot in Abu Dhabi right now then wait until they arrive. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // It’s probably safe to say this won’t go down as a vintage Bon Jovi tour.

The band’s first outing to begin without longterm guitarist Richie Sambora – a low-pressure 12-city jaunt around Asia – was already struck by calamity, with three shows cancelled due to government intervention (in China) and a typhoon (in Taiwan). Arriving in Abu Dhabi for the penultimate night on Thursday, one felt a certain sense of hang-on-and-hope in the air.

The little-known That’s What the Water Made Me marked an underwhelming entrance. Quickly followed by 1980s hair-metal anthems You Give Love a Bad Name, Raise Your Hands and Born to Be My Baby, the cracks were soon evident for all to see and hear – Jon was noticeably struggling to hit the high parts of these heyday classics. Was it a bad night, or are his 53 years starting to show? The way the frontman artfully rephrased, re-pitched, or left the rest of the band to fill the blanks suggests this isn’t the first time.

Ironically duller, newer material like Who Says You Can’t Go Home and Lost Highway worked far better, pitched in keys that suit Jon’s latter-day vocal style.

There’s no escaping the missing void where Sambora once stood. Replacement session player Phil X does a fine job of copping the second vocal part in Wanted Dead or Alive, but there’s key, iconic solo work he can’t/won’t play.

A band known for their ballads (Bed of Roses, Always et al), there was a sad lack displayed Thursday night – because, one imagines, Jon’s vocal frailties may be exposed.

One plodding new song is titled Because We Can – but sadly it’s not clear if this is the case, anymore.

Perhaps the most affecting moment is a fresh acoustic band rendition of Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night.

Other highlights include retro rocker I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and a rousing Keep The Faith.

During Have A Nice Day I overheard one punter attempting to sing the chorus to It’s My Life, a song already performed that evening – let’s face it, they’re much of a muchness.

Following the inevitable Livin’ on a Prayer, the lights went up after little more than two hours. Writing about the band, I’ve used a fast food analogy before – much like a burger binge, a Bon Jovi gig satisfyingly hits the spot, but leaves you feeling slightly guilty and nauseous afterwards.

What next?

In contrast to November’s upcoming Mötley Crüe show, there was a distinct lack of any pyrotechnics or effects. Back to basics works – but when the support band, the UAE’s promising Carl & the Reda Mafia, have more multimedia than the headliner, you have to wonder if this is Budget Bon Jovi (although it was nice to see Jon drinking Al Ain water onstage – no diva here).

When, earlier on, Jon announced new single We Don’t Run, not a soul applauded. It was the only cut to appear from 2015’s Burning Bridges, a “contractual obligation” release which severs ties with Mercury, the band’s record label of more than three-decades.

Which really raises the question – what happens next?

Without Sambora, the pretence of Bon Jovi the Band has been crushed – the other three were reportedly “paid employees” of their namesake all along.

But as most fans still think it’s a “he” not a “they” anyway, why not cut loose with another solo album, add the name “Jon” to the ticket stub, and loose a few of those embarrassing falsettos along the way?

rgarratt@thenational.ae