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:: Bon Jovi ::
07 June 2010 / O2 Arena / London
By David Edwards

Cath Aubergine, MM Live Editor, writes: When David told me he was going to see Bon Jovi it would have been easy to react with horror, or take the piss. To me, this band epitomise everything that was shit about the 80s. Cloying and banal lyrics set to soft-metal melodic cliches, stonewash double denim tucked into cowboy boots, rock'n'roll with every last ounce of danger and challenge excised, barely ten years since punk and we'd already regressed to this? At least Def Leppard, being no-nonsense Yorkshiremen somewhere deep under the hairspray, knew what they were and could laugh at themselves. The reason Bon Jovi never sang a lyric as teeth-grindingly hilarious as "Make love like a man / Cos I'm a man / That's what I am" was because when he belted out love songs or, worse still, the laughable attempts at social commentary that were "Livin' On A Prayer" and that patronising one about homeless people, in a manner best described as Barney The Dinosaur Does Springsteen - he meant it, maaaan. Add the sheen of over-production which afflicted even some good bands in the 80s, and if you can stomach the results without feeling rather queasy then you've got stronger guts than me.

And yet... and yet... there are few things as irksome as Being Cool, at least if you've over the age of 17. And yes, that does include the "Guilty Pleasures" hipster nights where people try really hard to be as uncool as they can in order to be cool and everything gets a bit complicated. Moreover, what's "guilty" about enjoying whatever music it is you enjoy? Mentioning in passing last year that I was going to see The Pet Shop Boys attracted a surprising level of horror from some of my mates: it had never really occurred to me that one of Britain's two great 80s electronic pop-subversive bands should be considered any less influential and socially acceptable than the other one - but their live show was better than every New Order gig I ever saw. Here at MM we don't have any elitist agenda. We each have our own taste - my personally liking The Pet Shop Boys and not Bon Jovi is no different to my liking Fuck Buttons and not Yeasayer - but that's all it is. So when David told me he was going to see Bon Jovi, rather than react with horror, or take the piss, I asked him to write about it.

So without further ado...

Remember when you were a kid? That sweet, beautiful naïve innocence? You didn’t greet strangers as threats, predators, people to be afraid of. No, they were the next people you were going to excitedly show that secret spaceship den in the garden to. Remember seeing a magic trick? You didn’t scoff and mutter about mirrors and false walls. No, your jaw fell open in unabashed amazement. And remember hearing a song you liked? You didn’t care for genre, past form or what anyone else thought. You just loved it. You sang to it, you danced to it, it was always and forever yours.

Somewhere along the heavy vine of time, you develop the notion that things are well…not quite so simple. In the same way that the grubby little androgynous girl in the playground who ate worms suddenly becomes a beacon for your unfocused and confusing lust, you suddenly realise that music has a validity in not only stirring your own emotions, but also in stirring the respect of those around you. Tied in with the cycle of teenage rebellion, the aim becomes to individualise, innovate and stand out from the herd. And thus you shove your childhood sing-along-to-the-mirror albums and crudely assembled chart countdown compilations to the back in the drawer and stand proudly in front of your peers bellowing loudly and clutching a copy of say; “Sticky Fingers”, “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, “Never Mind the Bollocks”, “The Stone Roses”, “In Utero” or “Is This It”. Time begat and time immemorial. The notion of cool is universal to any generation.

And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Far from it, it’s a pivotal aspect of personal development. Without striving for this individuality, we’d all be monochrome, mirrored clones of each other. And the mission of searching out what was deemed to be cool and acceptable helped me discover some wonderful acts as I got older: Dylan, Radiohead, Joy Division, Arcade Fire, Tom Waits. But there’s a risk you can get too far into that, eschewing anything that doesn’t fit into a notion of true distinctiveness. This is dangerous; it denotes someone who is so fundamentally obsessed with being different, they are chronically unable to drop their guard. An ex of mine once told me she hated The Beatles. I couldn’t understand that. You don’t have to love them and Christ, it’s fair to despise some of their stuff (Some of the early records are fucking garbage; listen to “When I Get Home” from A Hard Days Night for vindication of this point). But to entirely dismiss a band who crossed dozens of musical Rubicons, cut thousands of sonic Gordian Knots and produced some of the greatest songs of all time in so many different genres? That didn’t and still doesn’t make sense. It smacked of trying to be far too different. It is important to be a singular entity in a multimedia world that makes the whole process increasingly difficult. But not too much so. Wander out into the wilderness too far and no-one will ever find you.

So how does that all link to Bon Jovi then?

Well, at prima facie value, Bon Jovi are about as uncool as you get. Oh, they really are. They indulge in every single live rock cliché going. From Jon Bon Jovi’s tight trousers to the way that Richie Sambora plays every solo grasping his customised guitar to his crotch like he’s sleeping with the latest supermodel; from the tousled and baffling crimp of David Bryan’s hair to the celestial-spotlight that illuminates Jon every time he sings another torch song. It’s ferociously uncool, the sort of thing that would make any self-respecting Elton John fan blush. So why is it then? Why despite all the cock-rock styling that everyone thought Kurt Cobain had killed off with ‘Nevermind’? Despite all the best intentions of Acid House, Britpop and every band since, clad all in skinny jeans and battered converse while loudly proclaiming to bluntly wipe the musical landscape clear. Why, after all that are Bon Jovi are selling out 14 consecutive nights at the cavernous 02 arena? And why is it, despite all my fears and apprehensions, that tonight’s show is actually fucking brilliant?

Seeing as most of you are probably rolling your eyes and sneering by now, let me go a little technical to back up my argument. As a band, they’re shit-hot. Tico Torres barely plays a single wasted drum fill, keeping the beat tick-tock-tight. How many indie drummers do that? Richie Sambora solos with technical brilliance, impeccable pentatonic scale soaring on a ration-stamp sparseness (His solos rarely extend beyond a Matt Bellamy tune-up). Bassist Hugh McDonald keeps perfect beat with Torres and in doing so, establishes the perfect bedrock for twenty-three thousand people to dance upon it. You can easily condemn it as being too slick. But at this level you need that. Do you really want to pay £70 for a ticket and be confronted by a few ham-fisted kids screwing up simple riffs? Never believe what you read about the ramshackle nature of “classic” bands. Listen to early Sex Pistols and Joy Division live recordings and they’re tight as fuck. Bon Jovi are polished, for sure. But you need that when you’re playing to this many people. There’s nothing remotely cool about someone screwing up a guitar solo. There is nothing clever about fluffing a beat.

And then there is Jon Bon Jovi. He’s utterly over the top, childishly hyperactive and a consummate performer. Be it throwing himself around every inch of the enormous 02 stage while singing constantly into his radio mic, launching himself into the crowd to croon to a fan, to pretending to wearily clamber onstage on his hands and knees for the encore; he’s a born circus master. You can’t do things like this without having a significant percentage of cheese in the DNA. And everyone loves it; he drives the show, leads the handclaps and the massed waving like some Cheshire Cat Cheerleader of the masses. You can scoff at it all you want, but you can’t help but be impressed.

And as for the songs? They follow the traditional major to minor changes that have served so many bands over so many years. Married to big choruses and lyrics that will try to convince you that, should you wish, you could climb Everest, fly to the Moon, perfectly recreate the recipe for Coca Cola and seduce Megan Fox. All in one day. Sure, it’s corny. But there is something about the whole concoction that acts as a form of unique social glue that extends throughout the generations. You take a look around. Kids are dancing with their parents. Elderly people jump up and down like hip replacements were readily available from vending machines. Couples kiss on the slow songs, random strangers yell lyrics at each other from three rows apart. The whole thing comes across as an exercise in pure entertainment. There is no pretentiousness, no attempt to “do things a bit differently”. It’s just sheer unadulterated fun, something everyone can share in as a communal experience. No dress code, no age limits, no sneering glances from the purists. One for all, all for one. That’s the Bon Jovi experience.

Sure, there’s stuff that occasionally grates. “Whole Lotta Leaving Going On” and “We Weren’t Born to Follow” are paint-by-numbers rock blustering. And the stripped, piano-led cover of “Hallelujah” is mawkish, saccharine nonsense (Though still much better than Alexandra Burke). But when it comes to FM rock classics such as “Living on a Prayer”, “Keep the Faith” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” you simply have to admire the fact that these are genuinely great rock songs, done to absolute precision. And when you listen, you pick out similarities to other, more ‘acceptable’ artists. “Blood on Blood” is no different in sound and essence to Joshua Tree era U2. “In these Arms” is simply Springsteen if he had less of a penchant for blue jeans and more of a hankering for eye glitter and leather. This is rock music and rock music has always positioned itself cautiously on the razor-edge of the parmesan wedge. They have a better back catalogue than either Kiss or Aerosmith, two bands it seems universally legitimate to have in your record collection and who are still revered as some sort of rock royalty. Is it just that Steven Tyler took more drugs and that Gene Simmons slept with more women? And if that is the case, what does that really say about our accepted notions of what is considered “cool” in music?

And everyone dances, everyone sings, everyone thoroughly enjoys their Monday night out. It’s a collective of positivity, gratification and generalised good will to all. It’s the live music equivalent of a Broadway show, an escape from your troubles into a world of entertainment, collective joy and celebration. And fuck me; in this turbulent day and age, isn’t that something we can all appreciate? Bon Jovi aren’t creative geniuses, they’ve never made a truly great album and they never will. And yes, if you want a truly spiritual and transcendent experience from music then go and see something else (Take my advice though, you usually have to be made extraordinarily miserable to achieve this) But if you want an escape from life for a couple of hours, a chance to truly dance away your woes and have an old time, classic rock gig experience (the likes of which American 70’s movies tend to espouse as some sort of golden age) I simply can’t recommend it enough. It probably isn’t going to impress the new kid at work with his copy of NME, there isn’t anything that is going to help you pull that aloof girl in the tattered stockings and spiked hair stood against the wall arrogantly drinking her Jack Daniels. But if that’s truly what you want out of life then shit; I feel sorry for you. And if you really and truly have a serious problem with this sort of thing, you’ve got to ask yourself what it actually says about you.

We all need that moment of winding the window of a car down on a summer’s day and singing your heart out to the world. We all need the escapism from a life that saddles you with debt, heartache and fractured dreams. We all need to come back to the child who played with unfettered delight by the fading summer light in the paddling pool and sang along to the radio on family outings without caring whoever in the world could hear them. Tonight wasn’t about reinventing the wheel or pushing music forward. It was about sharing a glass of collective elation with thousands of happy, unpretentious people. And when you think deeply about it, maybe these are the people who can genuinely express their enjoyment, their Freudian Id, their sense of sheer unadulterated pleasure with the world. And maybe when all is said and done, these people are the true individuals. And in achieving that, it makes each and every one of them as cool as fuck in my book.

Bon Jovi

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