With the coronavirus pandemic dragging on, big-name acts have had to put their touring plans on hold. But a few brave drive-in theaters have continued to offer a limited number of shows, bringing back the concert experience to fans who cannot get out of their homes or avoid crowds. The latest to join the fold is Bon Jovi, who performed a 19-song set at the Paramount Theatre in New Jersey and was broadcast at many of those same drive-ins Saturday night.
The rockers wore their hearts on their sleeves, and their fans responded with an ear-splitting roar that rivaled the kind Liverpool FC supporters unleash when their team wins the Champions League. It’s a testament to how iconic the band remains that they can still draw such an enormous crowd, and that their songs – including Livin’ on a Prayer, Always, and You Give Love a Bad Name – are such unavoidable anthems that people of all ages, from toddlers to pensioners, can sing along to them with abandon.
Jon Bon Jovi, now 55, was in fine voice and seemed rejuvenated by the reconfigured band he leads. Though he has no regrets about firing original bassist Alec John Such in 1994 and letting guitarist Richie Sambora go in 2013, Bon Jovi seems to be thriving as the face of the band and its sole songwriter.
He may be in good vocal health but he also has an ego that requires him to be the center of attention at every show. That was especially clear when he started his encore with “Have a Nice Day,” a song about the ups and downs of his life that seemed to be aimed directly at the audience.
The rest of the show was a mix of old favorites and songs from the band’s latest album, 2020. The band did not perform acoustic versions of their classics, and that was a shame, because they have never been better suited for the acoustic format. The best moments came when Bon Jovi slowed things down to play a few more mellow ballads.
As for the new material, it was not all that memorable. During “Living on a Prayer” he had a hard time hitting the high notes and even sounded like he was trying to imitate Axl Rose in his heyday, which was not a great idea for someone with such a legendary voice. A recent article in the Asbury Park Press quotes a voice and speech pedagogy associate professor, who thinks the singer might need to see a laryngologist and have his vocal folds checked. He has had a lot of time off the road recently, and perhaps his voice simply needs to retrain itself. Whatever the case, this was a classic Bon Jovi concert and a solid way to celebrate 30 years on the road. It’s a sure bet that the group will be back on the road again in 2024.