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Live review: Bon Jovi at the Honda Center

February 27, 2010 | 12:38 pm
“Get up out of your seats!” Jon Bon Jovi commanded his audience Friday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, where the singer’s New Jersey-based hard-rock band played the first of two weekend shows in advance of a Staples Center concert Thursday.

That type of exhortation is nothing new for Bon Jovi, who’s been rousing huge crowds since he and his bandmates found stardom churning out resolute pop-metal anthems like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” in the mid-1980s. Yet Friday, the frontman’s standard-issue decree took a less literal, more figurative form.

Bon Jovi’s current world tour -- which launched this month in Honolulu and includes a 12-night stand at London’s O2 Arena -- comes in support of last year’s “The Circle,” a self-conscious return to the group’s blue-collar roots. And at the Honda, performing on a stage surrounded by high-definition video screens, the band presented itself as an avatar of progressive politics: During the new album’s "We Weren’t Born to Follow," those screens alternated a series of left-wing buzzwords -- "change," "resist," "stand up" -- with images of the singer that openly echoed a well-known Barack Obama poster designed by artist Shepard Fairey.
Later, as the band played "Work for the Working Man," bits of communist iconography punctuated the simulated sound of a factory floor in full swing. And Bon Jovi introduced "When We Were Beautiful," a U2-ish power ballad from "The Circle," as an emblem of his effort to transition from what he called a "me decade" to a "we decade."

This was an unlikely rebranding attempt from a group whose breakout album was called "Slippery When Wet," and in Anaheim it wasn’t always clear how sympathetic the band’s audience was to its overhauled message. At least one fan could be heard yelling "No-bama" in response to Bon Jovi’s mention of the current economic crisis.

So in addition to the new material, Friday’s two-hour set contained plenty of older hits, many of which deployed details of the working-class circumstance in a scene-setting capacity, rather than a policymaking one. "You Give Love a Bad Name" sounded taut and energized, as Bon Jovi offset his earlier evangelism with some appealingly goofy dance moves. "Get Ready,” a tune from the band’s 1984 debut, was fat-free power pop clearly designed with a club crowd in mind.

For "Livin’ on a Prayer," Bon Jovi’s signature ode to wage-slave resilience, the group actualized its democratic ideal by showing dozens of video clips submitted by fans singing along to the song’s rallying-cry chorus. The retrenchment worked; at one point in "Prayer," Bon Jovi ceded lead-vocal duties to the Honda crowd, which took up the job with undimmed commitment.

A few songs before that, the band had played its rootsy 2005 hit "Who Says You Can’t Go Home," and the answer, at least for the moment, was clear: nobody here.

-- Mikael Wood

Bon Jovi plays the Honda Center again on Saturday and Staples Center on Thursday.

Photo: Jon Bon Jovi at Honda Center on Friday. Credit: Chad Sengstock