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Bon Jovi Reigns When It Pours 9 August 2003
Giants, Night 1

Source: The Star-Ledger

Bruce Springsteen isn't the only Jersey rocker who can face down Mother Nature's wrath and hold tens of thousands in rapt attention, even as they get drenched.

At Giants Stadium in East Rutherford on Thursday, the first of two back-to-back nights at the venue, Bon Jovi fans endured a biblical downpour that lasted the length of the band's two-and-a-half-hour performance.

What could have been a washout for lesser entertainers was one rapturous rain dance of a concert for the veteran quintet. Few left their seats to seek shelter, and lead vocalist Jon Bon Jovi made the most of the torrent, tossing his wet locks to sexy effect, and prancing through the storm like the rebirth of Gene Kelly.

"I always wondered what it was like taking a shower with 60,000 people," Jon joked, midway through the show, surveying the mass of ponchos and hoods.

Say what you will about the riff-by-numbers songwriting, Bon Jovi is a Herculean crowd-pleaser on stage. Even the most insipid lyrics and hack melodies are delivered like gospel to an audience that knows every note and syllable by heart.

The double-shot Meadowlands stint, with busker-turned-hitmaker Jason Mraz and fellow Jerseyan Pete Yorn opening the show, is the last splash on Bon Jovi's tour supporting last year's "Bounce" record. Next to their multi-platinum 2000 comeback collection, "Crush," the new album is something of a turkey, barely reaching Gold sales status in its first six months of release. Yet there were few signs of decline at Giants Stadium. The band performed on a gleaming colossus of a stage, and the recent numbers were as ecstatically received as the classics.

An annoying drizzle stepped up to a steadier rain when the lights went down at 8:30 p.m. The exultant strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," the Strauss composition used in Stanley Kubrick's "2001," rumbled through the sports complex, as numbers scrolled on a pixillated tower of video monitors, a la "The Matrix." Five shadows emerged, looking small as Kafka insects before the skyrise backdrop, but cheered like conquering titans.

The band opened with the title track from "Bounce," a too-slight variation on their other anthems of obstacle-be-damned triumph. No matter. The audience savored every cliché-like prime steak rather than recycled fast food. Jon, in shoulder-to-toe black leather with his movie star chest revealed through several undone buttons, jogged and pointed and pogo-jumped, playing to every section of the stadium. Guitarist Richie Sambora plucked notes with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.

Even though Jon's voice strained to hit the upper notes of "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer," the audience happily assisted him. At several points during both numbers, he surrendered the vocals to the crowd, conducting the singers with a phantom baton. Basking in the roar of ticket holders reciting the "Livin'" chorus, Jon gushed, "Does it get any better than that?"

Tackiness ensued during the Sept. 11 battle cry, "Undivided." Memorial video footage was accompanied by a laser light fantasia, giving the tribute to American resiliency all the weight of a Vegas revue. The only thing missing was bayonet-twirling showgirls.

"Keep the Faith," the band's attempt at "Sympathy For the Devil"-style funk malice, maybe gimpy on disc but it was a hell-raising dance anthem in concert, as soggy feet skittered in the stands and Jon shook his rump to the brisk bass lines.


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