As faithful readers of this blog know, last Wednesday I went to see a Bon Jovi concert, a highly anticipated event, at least in the Novak family.
I’ve been to four previous Bon Jovi concerts over the years (yes, we’re casual groupies), so I knew what to expect: high energy, enthusiasm, and powerful vocals. My main concern was how the retirement of lead guitarist Richie Sambora would impact the live show.
Little did I know Sambora’s absence would be the least of the problems. A few songs in, my mom leaned over and whispered to me, “He doesn’t sound good, does he?”
I’d been thinking the same thing. I wasn’t sure if the instruments were turned up too loud, but Jon Bon Jovi’s voice was thin and difficult to hear.
I leaned back and said, “And he’s looking tired.”
Indeed he was. There were some attempts at the old energy and dancing, but they were half-hearted at best. I was thinking that perhaps it was time for Bon Jovi to hang up the guitar. Was one of my favorite bands finally losing a step? It would be hard to blame them if they were, after thirty years of uninterrupted success.
But after singing a lackluster Runaway, Bon Jovi revealed to the audience that he was battling a cold. He talked about the doctors pumping him full of medicine but admitted, “I think I’m singing like shit tonight, and I apologize…but I’m gonna keep pushin’ on and if you stick it out me with me, I’ll stick it out with you.”
It was a relief more than anything else. And it was where things got interesting.
After his admission, Bon Jovi’s voice grew progressively worse throughout the evening until he could barely sing at all. His distress over disappointing his audience was palpable and quite frankly, endearing.
I started thinking about how choreographed such big concerts are these days. How every song, outfit, dance step, and look is practiced and planned. This isn’t a knock on Bon Jovi. Far from it. This is the way every modern act performs, from the military precision of the Superbowl Halftime Shows to the Taylor Swift choreography that rivals a Broadway play. What appears spontaneous is planned months in advance.
So it was fascinating to watch Bon Jovi entertain the crowd after all the Aces fell out of his sleeves. He may not have sounded his best, but he worked hard to entertain the crowd. He pulled a fan out of the audience to sing with him, had the bad sing for him, and asked the crowd to help him out on his biggest hits.
His authentic showmanship and talent shone through, and you could see why this man who never gave up had survived thirty years in the cutthroat and competitive world of show business.
I once saw a younger singer—I’m not going to call her out by name—performing in an outdoor venue. She was singing her signature hit when a large cloud of moths swarmed the stage. She ran off the stage screaming. In a way I couldn’t blame her, but it struck me that there aren’t enough moths in the world to keep Bon Jovi from performing for his audience.
In the end, however, he had to cut his set short, after a valiant effort. During his final song, I don’t think he croaked out a single word—his band and his crowd was happy to carry him across the finish line.
Was I disappointed? Of course. But I’m already anticipating his return —because it was obvious Bon Jovi felt he owed Pittsburgh a better show, and when he returns, there’s no doubt it will be One Wild Night.