Livin’ on a Prayerby Hugh Upsher / 13.05.2013
My mom drove for five hours to Cape Town to see Bon Jovi perform. When I asked her how old she was when Slippery When Wet came out she shrugged in a way that indicated she wasn’t sure she understood the question properly. Bon Jovi is one of those bands that have just always been around. Regardless of whether you were buying their albums, you’re guaranteed to know more than a few of their songs. The queue into the stadium grounds showed the Bon Jovi audience has no age; few bands can claim to be multigenerational the way Bon Jovi can. Being around for thirty years will do that.
Bon Jovi was born out of New Jersey and plays off the very grounded, working-class appeal synonymous with the area. I couldn’t help but see Jon Bon Jovi as a younger, hornier and less poetic brother of Bruce Springsteen. The kind of guy who would get a superman logo tattooed on his arm thinking chicks would dig it. If Bruce Springsteen is the social-political type then Bon Jovi is just pure social, and the world loves them for it. They don’t claim to have a profound message in their music and if they did it would be ‘Dance with me because I’m sexy and I wanna hump you’.
I found out an hour before the concert began that lead guitarist Richie Sambora had pulled out of the tour due to the not-so-personal reasons relating to an addiction to prescription meds and alcohol. Jon Bon Jovi’s right hand man, his partner in crime, was missing from the lineup. The gap was filled by what appeared to be a roadie and quite possibly his dad. They shared out the solo duties adequately enough but with the mass of iconic solos and riffs Bon Jovi own, you couldn’t help feel cheated.
Bon Jovi had an underwhelming start with an unrecognizable song that could have been off any album of the last thirty years. Jon came across as fatigued, possibly due to the burden of handling frontman responsibilities singlehandedly. In addition to this the poor mixing that had plagued the opening acts had unfortunately carried through to the first few songs with the vocals sounding like he was singing into a karaoke microphone in a shitty pub. The crowd however, weren’t phased and were immediately won over when he eventually let his charisma and energy out the box. He stares into the cameras just like the music videos with his big shiny American grin. His cocky yet infectious confidence convinces you that synchronized clapping and singing along to the choruses is the best thing you’ve done all week.
About ninety minutes into the set I was certain they were replaying songs. Surely not? A band that has been around this long didn’t need to resort to such a shameless move. I figured out after some consultation with my mom that songs like ‘Bad Medicine’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ give off an identical vibe. In the same sense ‘I’ll Be There For You’ and ‘Always’ are more or less interchangeable. The band discovered the radio rock formula a long time ago and is not ashamed of shaking it out for all it’s worth. Even if it means writing songs that sound suspiciously familiar when played sequentially.
The claim that their new album was a number one album (whatever that means) surprised me for a moment before I realized their target demographic still haven’t figured out how to download albums off the internet for free. They snuck in a couple of brand new songs into the set and unsurprisingly they were met with utter indifference. The audience allowed it knowing they wouldn’t dare go more than fifteen minutes without touching base with a classic from the vaults. The last time Bon Jovi played in South Africa was in 1995. This means that a possible African lovechild would of legal drinking and driving age upon their return. If anyone thought they were past their prime back in ’95 then I’d wonder what they would be classified as now?
It was almost 11:00PM when the band cleared off the stage. It was getting chilly and I had personally gotten my fill. Despite this I cheered and clapped in solidarity with the crowd begging for an encore. Be careful what you wish for. I figured I’d stick it out and get my (mom’s) moneys worth. The band returned for a scheduled encore to slam out the last of their memorable hits.
After this I turned to my mom asking if there was anything they may have left out. She shrugged in response, it seemed as if they covered all the bases. It turned out their encore had its own encore of two more songs taking the concert to just past 11:30PM. Not bad for a bunch of jet lagged fifty year olds. One guy looked keen to push it past midnight if it wasn’t for the fact that the mid-week crowd had already started to mill out by the start of their first encore half an hour earlier.
*All illustrations © Hugh Upsher