- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Go ahead, jeer Bon Jovi if you must. Despite, or maybe because of, my New Jersey roots, I rather enjoy the pastime myself.
But who could argue with an MCI Center full of adulatory fans Sunday night, belting out Bon Jovi's hits with the kind of nostalgic ardor usually reserved for bands that survived the 1960s, not the '80s?
Bon Jovi may lack the gravitas of '80s contemporaries such as U2 and REM, but they lack the pretentiousness, too. And they seldom, if ever, verbally abuse flight attendants.
The New Jersey natives have tapped into a sizable audience that, in addition to buying nearly 100 million of their albums, has kept the band alive long past the sell-by date of '80s hair bands.
Mind you, this not insignificant audience seems to have slept through the 1990s and that decade's testy reaction to antiseptic production and lite-metal power ballads, but Bon Jovi's appeal is nothing to sneeze at: They're a helluva lot of fun.
When it comes to pop music, fun is serious business, and Bon Jovi goes about it with a work ethic worthy of their blue collar Jersey roots. They play well, too, especially guitarist Richie Sambora. His flashy style fell out of fashion in the '80s, but it's still a treat to watch.
Now, it's true that the anthemic hits "Runaway," "You Give Love A Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer," "Raise Your Hand" and "Bad Medicine" were already cheesy when first released.
But only the highest of highbrow sticks-in-the-mud could resist singing along. Pleasure is pleasure, guilty or otherwise.
"Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Wild in the Streets," both from the 1986 smash album "Slippery When Wet," actually sound pretty good in their own right today, even outside the forgiving context of nostalgia.
Another thing Bon Jovi is unapologetic about is elephantine arena-rock spectacle. Behind the band were three makeshift high-power satellite dishes the theme for the artwork of their latest album, "Bounce" that doubled as video screens.
And, periodically, roadies would usher a pack of young fans into little pens on either wing of the stage, where they could bask in Jon Bon Jovi's million-dollar smiles and high-five his outstretched hands.
Sunday night's show lost a little steam, though, as Bon Jovi played fully half of "Bounce," a mostly terrible album that sees the band trying to strike a balance between juiced-up rockers fit for teenaged ears and syrupy ballads aimed at the adult-contemporary radio market.
Co-produced by Desmond Child the Midas-fingered dial twiddler behind several late-'80s Bon Jovi and Aerosmith singles as well as Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" "Bounce" is an uneven, radio hit-trolling hodgepodge.
Some of Bon Jovi's '90s output sounds pretty revolting, too. I'm hard-pressed to figure out how songs like "It's My Life" and "Keep the Faith," for example, didn't alienate the band's fan base. Slickly processed and synthesizer-heavy, mid-period Bon Jovi had an edge that was even smoother than the soft metal of their heyday.
But the band deserves points for having confidence in its new material, and the audience responded surprisingly well to it, if not with the utter abandon with which they greeted the older hits.
Fans didn't know quite what to do when Mr. Bon Jovi emerged for the band's three-song encore dressed in a "Gore /Lieberman 2000 Campaign Staff" shirt, singing the Barry McGuire protest song "Eve of Destruction." Even the older fans in the mostly youngish audience probably missed that reference.
To his credit, Mr. Bon Jovi, an active Democrat, avoided the rancorous rhetoric that some of his mouthier colleagues in the entertainment industry have been spewing lately. He dedicated "The Distance," a torchy ballad from "Bounce," to U.S. troops stationed in "lands unknown."
It would take a tender-minded G.I., though, to appreciate lyrics like "You are the light / In my mind I see your red dress / and your arms are reaching through the night / I'll never give up the fight / I'll go the distance."
Bon Jovi may not rank with the best of New Jersey's cultural contributions to the world say, Frank Sinatra, Jack Nicholson or Bruce Springsteen. But to last 20 years in a fickle business is no easy thing.
It's questionable whether Bon Jovi had any dignity to sacrifice along the way, but whatever it is they had in the mid-'80s, they haven't lost it yet.
Admit it: "Bad Medicine" is exactly what you need.

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