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At one point during the song "The More Things Change," Jon Bon Jovi bizarrely took a moment to criticize Eminem, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. He complained that they were all retreads of previous entertainers. But one thing always stayed the same, Bon Jovi added: he and his band, right there on that stage.
He was right. Unfortunately.
The world's highest-grossing rock band for two of the past three years played a packed EnergySolutions Arena on Tuesday night, one of 135 shows that it will perform during its 2010-2011 world tour. It was an altogether pleasant but unremarkable show, with as many mid-tempo valleys as peaks as the band suffered from a dearth of just plain good rock 'n' roll songs that get the juices and sweat going.
It is easy to say that Bon Jovi isn't as good as it once was, but in this case, it seemed true, with the band writing more adult-contemporary and faux-country songs over the past two decades. The most excitement the band generated was when it played its classic-rock anthems, such as "Bad Medicine," "Lay Your Hands on Me," "Keep the Faith," and "Blaze of Glory" all written before 1992.
But for every rousing "You Give Love a Bad Name," there were several midtempo, enervating songs with titles that appeared cribbed from greeting cards or candy hearts: "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," "Born To Be My Baby," "We Got It Goin' On," "We Weren't Born to Follow." And the words in the songs were just as trite and uninspiring.
The core of the band the eternally youthful Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Richie Sambora, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan was enthusiastic enough, though, for the most part, the members appeared as if they weren't about to leave everything on the stage. And despite a sludgy mix that negatively affected Jon's vocals, his gravelly tenor was in fine form. Sambora's guitar playing was predictably superb, and the rhythm section was as tight as could be hoped for.
The band was best when it moved beyond the confines of the stage and its own music, especially at a point an hour into the show, when Bon Jovi finally threw off his jacket. He led the band through an epic rendition of "Bad Medicine" that included Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" in the middle. Another nice moment was when Jon moved to a catwalk that separated the VIP seat-holders from the proletariats to croon a convincing version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
But I soon realized that the reason I liked the Cohen cover so much was because it gave my mind something to chew on. Most Bon Jovi songs are uninteresting lyrically and musically similar in their verse-chorus-verse repetitions. Frankly, for a rock show, I wanted more edgy, heart-palpitating guitar.
Despite the flaws in the show, the stage, lights and screens were always interesting and extremely well-done. Behind the stage were robots that enabled something called RoboScreens, which reportedly used 150 computer programs and 91 different automated axes of motion to create a constantly moving visual element that helped offset the band's fairly monotonous performance.
You just wish that Bon Jovi didn't seem so much like … well, robots, who don't seem to evolve.
R When • Tuesday, March 22
Where • EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
Bottom line • Band's and crowd's enthusiasm can't make up for a ho-hum night.