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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Wild night for Bon Jovi fans in Abu Dhabi

Preparing to see Bon Jovi for a fifth time in 15 years, Rob Garratt ponders the continued appeal of the stadium rock behemoths.
Bon Jovi have never been the coolest band but they remain hugely popular, thanks to their simple, catchy rock songs that appeal to a wide range of music fans. Getty Images
Bon Jovi have never been the coolest band but they remain hugely popular, thanks to their simple, catchy rock songs that appeal to a wide range of music fans. Getty Images

It is not without a certain amount of shame that I admit that tomorrow’s concert at du Arena will mark the fifth time I’ve seen Bon Jovi perform live.

With my first gig in 2000 and the most recent in 2013, the New Jersey rockers are by far my longest-running guilty pleasure. It’s an embarrassing fact to share, and a forced a confession to boot.

It seems my editor – who is mystified by the band’s success – has the theory that as a repeat offender, I am best placed to unravel the mystery of Bon Jovi’s sustained success as a stadium draw, and to explain what has motivated more than 37 million people in 55 countries to cough up cash to see the band in concert over the past 30-odd years.

They are good at what they do

They’re certainly among music’s most inclusive performers. If rock ceased to be dangerous decades ago, then Bon Jovi really are the sound of rock with the edges sanded down.

They belong to a tiny minority of stadium-filling acts that I can imagine taking both my pension-age mother and my teenage nephew to with the assurance that neither would walk out.

Bon Jovi are also not too heavy, angry, dark or glum. They are never indulgent, musically or lyrically. Instead, they make every effort to court mass appeal. They sing about universal themes – love, hope, escape – well-trodden lyrical paths since the dawn of popular music.

The tunes

They are driven by big, hummable riffs, and harmonically ear-pleasing chord sequences, which follow predicable verse-chorus-bridge structures.

There’s always a fist-waving refrain that can be easily grasped even by a first time listener, and they are often wrapped around a lyrical statement of intent – their biggest post-2000 hits, It’s My Life, Have a Nice Day and We Weren’t Born to Follow, all essentially rechannel the same overearnest declarations of desire and defiance that dates back to their 1986 song Livin’ On a Prayer.

These songs are individual battle cries, composed to be as collectively engaging as possible. And amazingly, the odd vocoder and guitar squeal aside, the music has aged remarkably well.

No surprises

Sensibly parking the metal riffs alongside the poodle bouffants at the close of the 1980s, for the past 25 years, Bon Jovi have largely trodden tried-and-tested soft-rock territory – neither groundbreaking nor dated, their songs are the epitome of radio- and stadium-friendly tunes. Such moves herald few surprises – not that the band mind. Bon Jovi offer a composite distillation of all the most successful clichés rolled into one. It’s the audio equivalent of a vintage Bruce Willis action movie – you know exactly how things are going to end but want to go along for the ride anyway.

Rock ’n’ roll survivors

Bon Jovi have also got time on their side. While relevance may have faded many years ago, after three decades on the road, the band have finally crossed from has-beens into “legacy” territory.

Bon Jovi are authentic road-warrior veterans with close to 3,000 gigs to their name, still serving up epic three-hour Springsteen-style sets without resorting to increasingly prevalent backing tracks. The secret of this survivor’s status comes from consistency. The third time I saw Bon Jovi, in 2011, my review critiqued the band as a “pre-packaged experience of rock n’ roll fast food”. But it’s precisely this reliability that keeps people coming back.

The consummate frontman

Jon Bon Jovi has swallowed the stagecraft textbook whole. The eponymous frontman’s between-song patter is as rehearsed as the music. The “we’re going to be here until the cops drag me off” routine is pure pop pantomime, but for a mass audience, it hits the spot like a fizzy drink or juicy burger.

Of course, music is more personal than fast food – and this may be the ultimate secret of Bon Jovi’s sustained success: songs that talk to the heart, but speak for the masses.

A bridge to the past

I first encountered Bon Jovi as an awed, irony free eight-year-old, on a cassette tape of cheesy soft rock (Aerosmith, Def Leppard) that was compiled by an older brother.

The first time I saw them live, the ticket was a gift from, and outing with, my sister.

While my tastes have evolved over the years, there has remained a tongue-in-cheek sense of wish-fulfilment in Bon Jovi’s music, a link to the past and a forgotten me.

I’m not the only one. The band’s enormous record sales (130 million) make clear that the music has wormed its way into more than a few consciences over the years.

Consciences belonging to people like me, who gain great pleasure in gathering together with others to communally exorcise these guilty musical demons.

That’s what tomorrow’s concert will be – one big collective catharsis of nostalgia, cheese and unadulterated rock n’ roll fun. I can’t wait.

• Bon Jovi perform at du Arena, Yas Island, tomorrow. Tickets from Dh395 at www.ticketmaster.ae

rgarratt@thenational.ae