Jon Bon Jovi on stage at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon Tuesday. / Evan Siegle/Gannett Wisconsin Media
As Bon Jovi proved Tuesday night, good things really do come to those who wait.
It may have taken 30 years into the New Jersey band’s career to get around to rocking Green Bay, but it’s hard to imagine a soul in the near-sellout crowd of 9,282 — long-timers and first-timers — walking out of the Resch Center wanting anything more from a live performance or a $100-plus ticket than what Jon Bon Jovi & Co. dished out. Well, except for perhaps a grinning Richie Sambora up there grinding away on guitar.
Clocking in at a hefty 2 hours and 30 minutes with a set list that deftly weaved through more than a dozen albums, it was a well-schooled lesson in how to do arena rock that managed to give both a nostalgic nod to the group’s ’80s roots and still feel as fresh and buoyant as its frontman’s smile. In other words, let’s “Make a Memory,” but don’t forget “What About Now” — and let’s have a good time doing it together.
If there was any doubt that the crowd wasn’t a quick study, you only had to witness the impressive precision with which they responded to “Raise Your Hands” right from the start. Like someone flipped a collective switch.
Founding trio Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan and Tico Torres, joined by Phil X (in for Sambora, who parted ways with the tour earlier this year) and a touring bassist and guitarist, worked from a simple circular stage with a crescent-shaped runway along the front. There were no massive video walls — not necessary in the smaller confines of the Resch and also good for lessening the Sambora void. Besides, who needs them when you have 51-year-old Bon Jovi as your best special effect?
Emerging from within the stage floor dressed in a leather American flag jacket to open with the somewhat curious choice of “That’s What the Water Made Me” off the current “What About Now” album (the title track, which came later, is the stronger song), he was the night’s undeniable command center. The man has a million moves — faux boxing jabs, jazz hands, rock star arms outstretched, dramatic crouch — and there wasn’t a one that didn’t get an instantaneous response from the crowd. He had them soloing on the last chorus of “You Give Love a Bad Name” two songs into the set, and, playing to kiss-blowing fans behind the stage, led them in an a cappella portion of “We’ve Got It Goin’ On.”
“We ain’t gonna waste a lot of time talkin’,” he told them. And he didn’t, as he led the band through an ambitious sampling from nearly every major release.
Staples like “Runaway,” “It’s My Life,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” all were accounted for, but there were some surprises, too, including the hard-rocking “The Radio Saved My Life Tonight” and a nicely nuanced “Diamond Ring” for a mid-show acoustic portion in which the core four lined up along the runway surrounded by fans. “Keep the Faith” remains one of the band’s best live showpieces, with Bryan going two hands on two different keyboards, Phil X given the chance to step out of the shadows and Torres pounding the skins for the big finish.
But who could’ve guessed “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” would become the turning point of the night?
Jon Bon Jovi came undone, prowling the stage a la the old MTV video days and breaking into his best Mick Jagger rooster strut for “Start Me Up” during a series of covers planted within the song, before turning the “I’ll Sleep” reigns back over to the band. He did a wild and giddy lap around the stage for “Bad Medicine” to immediately follow, and then launched into his only monologue of the night, talking about his search for a deeper meaning after music and finding his way into heaven. He said he talked first to a priest, then a rabbi, then Buddha. Just as the crowd was wondering whether this whole sermon was going anywhere, it turns out it was the bartender at the hotel the night before who gave him the direction he was looking for when she told him how to get to 1265 Lombardi Ave.
“‘It’s as close to heaven as you’re ever gonna get ...’ And I was saved!”
The crowd roared for what just might have been the most original Green Bay Packers concert shout-out that didn’t require slapping on a jersey or Cheesehead for the encore. Apparently they do things a little different in Jersey.
— Kendra Meinert writes for Press-Gazette Media, Green Bay.