Even with a conspicuously absent lead guitarist, Bon Jovi still rocked almost 15,000 faces Monday night.
The arena rock champions took the stage at CenturyLink Center for 2½ hours, and the band played everything from “You Give Love a Bad Name” to “Livin' on a Prayer.”
Of course, Jon Bon Jovi fronted his band without songwriting partner and lead guitarist Richie Sambora, who unexpectedly dropped out of the band's tour last week, citing “personal issues.”
Rumors have swirled that Sambora left over financial squabbles with Jon Bon Jovi (as reported by TMZ) and that he was temporarily kicked off the tour because his substance abuse is out of control (according to the New York Post), but both stories quote unnamed insiders. For his part, the band's frontman told the Austin American-Statesman, “Don't believe what you read on TMZ because it's the furthest thing from the truth.”
Anyway, Sambora's absence Monday was apparent to anyone paying attention, but it was almost never addressed. Phil X — real name Theofilos Xenidis — filled in for Sambora, as he did in 2011 while Sambora was in rehab, but the only time that Jon Bon Jovi made any mention was when he thanked X near the end of the show for “helping out on lead guitar.”
X was serviceable and mostly kept to the shadows. Even the video screens displaying close-up shots of the band showed only X's guitar and not his face, as if we wouldn't notice that he was a replacement player if no one ever mentioned it.
A certain heavy metal edge was given to elements of some songs, but X mostly stuck to Sambora's original riffs.
Even if fans noticed Sambora's absence, they were so fixated on lead singer Bon Jovi that they didn't seem to mind.
Everything, from the strobing lights to the circular stage directed our attention to his rock singer poses, grinning face (and those impossibly white teeth), unbuttoned shirt and rock-star-length hair.
And as he sang songs such as “Bed of Roses,” “Bad Medicine” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” fans sang, screamed, danced and cheered for the group.
As the band took a tour of its catalog, reaching deep back for songs such as “Raise Your Hands,” the group also detoured into the band's latest album, “What About Now.”
The band played four songs from the recording, including the first single (and the best song from the record) “Because We Can” and the “call to action” title track.
Personally, I could have used fewer songs from the new record (and the past few records), and I think most in the audience would be with me. During songs such as “We Weren't Born to Follow” and “Amen,” fans looked like they'd rather have “Runaway” or “I'll Be There For You," which were played at the concert.
“Livin' on a Prayer,” which came during the encore, was the biggest moment of the night.
“Omaha,” Bon Jovi said, “I need you. Sing!”
And, brought to their feet by the song's intro, audience members belted out the words for the rest of the song.
Bon Jovi, who briefly thanked his band, turned to the crowd.
“I wanna thank y'all very much for coming and spending your Monday night with us,” he said. “For your kindness, for your support, for your friendship and for your patience over these last 30 years, it's a treat.”
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