Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: Washington DC, 2-10-2013

Catte here, guest-posting for the lovely Goddess Hath.  This is the first of what will likely be a handful of posts each week or so, depending on what's going on in JoviLand and the Catte house.  I hope to keep you plugged into what's going on while the Goddess is on hiatus.  Enjoy! 

The Because We Can Tour rolled into sunny and snowless Washington DC Sunday.  In what became the default Opening Night of the world tour, The Boys and their intrepid crew played to a full house at the Verizon Center, showing off their shiny new stage setup and seven new songs.  Of course I was there to witness it all with five crazy friends in tow, including four gals who were experiencing their Very First Bon Jovi Concert Ever.

There's no doubt about it -- Bon Jovi is one of the best live bands on the planet.  The band is one of the tightest and most capable around, and Jon is a masterful front man.  And he needed every bit of his charisma to coax the audience along on this ride.

Washington DC is a transient city, populated with people coming and going from all corners of the country and parts of the globe.  As such, Bon Jovi's DC audiences tend to be comprised of casual fans, those who are there for the party more than the artist. Any number of political figures and their entourages can be spotted in the arena (usually in private boxes), and it is common for politicos to include show tickets in their fundraising packages.  For just a small donation in the high hundreds (or as governed by federal campaign finance law) you TOO can get a "free" ticket to see Bon Jovi and rub elbows with the candidate and his staff.

So I came to realize long ago that, while DC's Verizon Center is a lovely venue and a great place to see a show, Jon is never going to put together one of those truly spectacular, filled-with-rarities, take-your-breath-away setlists in Washington DC.  He is as savvy reading DC audiences as he is hobnobbing at the White House and on Capitol Hill.  And what audiences here want are the hits.

Given that fact, he was fighting an uphill battle Sunday night.  DC audiences may tolerate or even welcome the current single they're hearing on the radio, and maybe one more upbeat dance-worthy track from the new record.  But not SEVEN, two of which are back-to-back ballads.

But he came out swinging, opening with perennial favorite 80's monster hit You Give Love a Bad Name.  The crowd jumped up with a roar and sang along with gusto.... only to almost immediately sit back down when hit with the following pairing of Lost Highway and Whole Lot of Leavin'.  After that Jon gave his "good evening" speech, including a thinly-veiled pander that DC was the "real" first night of the World Tour because the "Snow Show" in Connecticut was actually more of a dress rehearsal. (Not that many people in the arena/outside the Pit even knew about the Mohegan postponement).  That of course brought an appreciative roar followed by a polite-ish dance-and-clap along with Because We Can.  The Tour Premiere of That's What the Water Made Me was a pleasant surprise, harder-rocking than its previous performances on European TV.

Then, much to the delight of devoted fans, the band broke out New Jersey-era Wild is the Wind.  The arena was filled with the mingle of sighs, squeals, and the sound of footsteps as half the arena headed out on the night's first beer run.  Jon momentarily grabbed those still in their seats with the next song, It's My Life, then followed with What About Now and When We Were Beautiful.  By that time the crowd was confused and restless, many of them sitting, checking their facebook accounts, or queueing at the exits for beer run #2/bathroom break #1.

Even the made-for-arena rocker We Got It Going On with Jon's moneymaker-shaking received a mixed response (momentary squeals of rump-shaking appreciation aside).  As on the previous tour Jon made his obligatory circuit around the back of the stage to say hello to those in the cheap seats, but this time he was stage-bound with no robot-platform-dance floors to boogie upon.  He looped back around to the front to proclaim "Lights OUT!" only to stand for a full 2 seconds before the lights actually WENT out (oops!).  (Early tour glitch--I give 'em a pass for that).

Now obviously realizing he had to work extra-hard to engage this audience, Jon shook his maracas with gusto during a sizzling extended version of Keep the Faith, featuring a scorching Richie solo complete with guitar-gun ending.  When Jon boogied his way offstage at the usual conclusion of the song Richie led the band in an extended jam that featured traded riffs between David's keys, Bobby's guitar, and Richie's lead licks.  The jam turned bluesy and gritty, and for a second I felt my heart leap when I heard the undertones of Richie's solo track Sugar Daddy.  But alas, he didn't step up to the mic, instead turning back to exchange scrunchy-faces with Tico and Hugh.  The end of the jam brought an enormous roar of appreciative applause from the crowd, who was finally getting the guitar-rock they expected.  When the lights went out the noise was deafening.

And when the lights came back up, the cheers were followed by a collective audible gasp.  There was Jon, standing tall the front of the circle, literally wrapped in the American flag.  Another Tour Premiere, his silvery-white jacket with burnout stars-and-stripes pattern shimmered in the spotlight, probably making every politico in the crowd frantically text his/her Chief of Staff to find one just like it for his/her own campaign wardrobe.

Sadly, the buzz over Jon's patriotic duds drowned out the opening of an otherwise gorgeous version of Amen.  The crowd quieted long enough to realize they didn't know this Bon Jovi song, then the hum of conversation and the rustle of movement steadily increased.  Those still paying attention (mostly women) sent up another squeal of delight when Jon knelt to plant a kiss on an attractive young lady circle-side, but Amen was greeted with only polite, confused applause.

After Amen Jon called Richie out to the circle, which brought more masculine cheers from those hoping for some reprieve from the mushy romantic stuff.  However, a lovely, Simon-and-Garfunkelesque duet of The Fighter brought only mild applause and the following acoustic Someday I'll Be Saturday Night didn't fare much better, though at least some people seemed relieved they were able to sing along.

The acoustic trio mercifully over, it was back to the main stage for another new song, Army of One.  In DC of all places, with The Pentagon right across the river, one would think a song like this would be an automatic hit.  But Army drew a mildly enthusiastically response, though many in my section (myself included) were seen visibly cringing at the jingoistic cry of "Never give up!" and blatantly cliched lyrics.  It was by far the cheesiest moment of the evening.  (And I fully expect the U.S. Army to contact Bon Jovi for permission to use the song in a recruiting commercial, LOL).

By this point Jon was clearly in focus-mode as the audience wasn't giving him much energy to work with.  The band rolled through a slightly-flat We Weren't Born to Follow before Jon stepped up to the mic an apologized for inflicting one more new song upon the confused audience, and thanking them in advance for their patience with the new music.  The band then launched into what was actually a great performance of What's Left of Me, which the crowd seemed to appreciate (the Semper Fi! lyric in the first verse didn't hurt).

Then it was time to pull out the Big Guns.  Jon directed the crowd to stand for the "National Anthem" and the predicted roar of relief/excitement went up when Richie stepped up with the doubleneck for Wanted Dead or Alive.  And somewhere about halfway through Richie's electric solo.  Jon turned around, looked out at the audience, and knew he had them.  You could see the "A-HA!" in his demeanor and his expression.  It was like somebody flipped a switch and he just sparkled (or maybe it was the lights on that fantastic jacket).  After that, there was no stopping him.

The crowd ate up Who Says You Can't Go Home with its extended workout of "S'Alright!"s and waved in Captain Crash.  Now fully warmed up, Jon shed his Americana jacket, stripping down to his barely-buttoned bright-red shirt before shamelessly shaking his ass and calling on Tico to give him the beat.  The place exploded at the first funky power chord of Bad Medicine, the set closer.  By the end it was a regular rock-n-roll revival, what the folks had come to hear.

Now clearly dialed in and electrified, the band came back to deliver a three-song encore that kicked off with an impassioned In These Arms (best I've heard in years).  A blistering Have a Nice Day, complete with a minor goof by Jon (early entry on vox) and a gleeful bird-flipping Richie, pushed the crowd into a frenzied, fist-pumping mass.  And of course, the closer Livin' on a Prayer left not a single butt in a seat or a chorus unsung, again relieving Jon of the chore of hitting the high notes.

So the (sort of) opening night of the Because We Can Tour ended not with a whimper, but with a bang, despite some uneasy moments.  The uneven pacing of the show and abundance of not just new but unreleased material did not fully grab the audience, leaving them somewhat confused and even bored.  I overheard one remark in the concourse post-show that this was the "weirdest Bon Jovi concert I've ever been to."  Others opined that it dragged, and (predictably) there were too many new songs.

There were several miscues and falters by the band, most of which were unnoticable to those not familiar with the "typical" Bon Jovi stage show.  A few minor technical glitches were also as expected early in the tour, and will undoubtedly be immediately ironed out. The new stage setup, with its hexagonal rising and lowering video columns, is visually impressive but ultimately not as fan-friendly as those of the last three tours.  The columns display video only on the front; those behind and to the side of the stage rely only on single suspended jumbotron screens for a view of stage-front action.  The movement of the columns also partially blocks the side/back-of-stage views.

As for the setlist and pacing of the show, Jon will undoubtedly fine-tune after every performance.  However, until the album is released and fans are familiar with the new songs he will be facing an uphill battle to keep the audience's attention with so many new songs in the rotation (the Amen-Fighter combination is especially lethal to fan enthusiasm).  As the tour rolls on and the band hits their groove, the songs that don't work will fall away, replaced by the tried-and-true.

I was personally disappointed by the absence of Born to Be My Baby in the setlist (though it was listed as an audible) and I missed the Bad Medicine-Jukebox Song combination that always brought an element of "what's it gonna be tonight?" fun mid-show.  I also wish Richie had taken lead vocals on at least one song, though I really don't care what -- a Bon Jovi or Sambora track.  I did enjoy hearing most of the new songs live, and was struck by the elegance of The Fighter in duet.

As for the other "important" stuff... the more things change, the more they stay the same.  I spent about a minute at the merch table before wandering away with a sneer.  The majority of this tour's shirts are the predictable black man-cut tee with a screen of the band or album artwork, but there are the obligatory pink items (hoodies, tanks) as well (PS--Hey Bon Jovi, just becasue I'm a girl doesn't mean I LIKE pink!).  There was one white tee with a busy guitar-soldier print, but other than that it was same-old, same-old.   As with just about everything involved with this and other tours, the prices are sky-high, the cheapest t-shirt I spied in my brief perusal was $50.

And don't even get me started on the price of beer.

SO... overall, it was an enjoyable evening, as pretty much all Bon Jovi concerts are.  But I must admit a great deal of my personal enjoyment came from watching my four Newbie friends sing and dance and take in the spectacle and be completely captivated by the Charms of the Lead Singer.  I wouldn't rank this as a great show; it was an adequate show, but one that dwells near the bottom of my personal Bon Jovi show archive.

Time will tell how this tour shakes out; if history is any guide I predict we will see the typical hits-packed setlists by summer.  Until then, this is your chance to hear the "new stuff,"  much of it will probably disappear by the end of the year.  It will be interesting to see what the Because We Can Tour looks like when it rolls back into DC this summer (my guess is Nationals Ballpark in July), as Jon promised in his farewell remarks.

You can find the setlist, photos, videos, and other details of this show at the Because We Can Tour Blog.


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