Concert Review: Bon Jovi at Blossom Music Center

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Bon Jovi pulled a near-capacity crowd to Blossom Music Center last night on a perfect summer night. If the show had happened a week earlier, the collective crowd woulda melted into a puddle of overpriced beer. Three days later, and there wouldn’t have been a spot on the lawn, guaranteed.

Opening act was Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. After damn near 40 years, they still play like the E Street Band’s little brothers. Between seven and 18 guys rockin’ out with a horn section. Later in the evening, the band joined Bon Jovi for a song, and Jon credited the group as the reason he was here rockin’ for you. You can’t argue with the staying power, but they’re no John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band — long on style, short on hooks.

Frontman Jon Bon Jovi tore a calf muscle during a hometown show Friday night, but he played the set like he wasn’t worried about aggravating the injury. The two-hour show alternated new material like “When We Were Beautiful” with hits like “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Random highlights included an extended run through “Bad Medicine,” in which Jon worked the front row, and an excited superfan threw a lip-lock on the singer. Seemingly in response, a blushing Bon Jovi led the group into a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” before returning to “Medicine.”

The show was skimpy on the first two albums, when the band was positioning itself as edgy bad boys to compete with Motley Crue and Ratt, but “Runaway” made the set list. If there was a big song you wanted to hear, they probably played it. Guitarist Richie Sambora sang lead vocals on “Lay Your Hands on Me.” Talented guy, Sambora — he can still shred like hell when it’s called for.

Late in the set, JBJ dedicated “Working for the Working Man” to the unemployed DHL workers of Wilmington Ohio and Clevelanders hit hard by the recession. The singer gave a brief but sincere sounding pep talk about the tough times, which have even put a dent in the gazillionaire’s wallet: the arena football team he owned part of, the Philadelphia Soul, shut down in 2009 (but is due to return in 2011).

After 28 years, the group has learned to keep cheap rock theatrics to a minimum: no solos, no four-encore extended set closing. The band saved “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on the Prayer” for the single encore, and ended the night with an ever-increasing tally of rocked faces. 15,000 people singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” is awesome — and, as Jon said, keeps them coming back. —D.X. Ferris

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