Sat., Feb. 9, 8 p.m. Mohegan Sun Arena, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville, (888) 226-7711, mohegansun.com. $125-$195.
Bon Jovi has been a band for 30 years. That's three complete decades of big hair, epic power ballads and spreading the gospel of Jersey around the world. You'd think that their new world tour (which begins Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena and then hits stadiums and arenas in about 20 countries throughout 2013) would be billed as "The 30th Anniversary Tour" or "30 Years of Big Hair, Ballads and Jersey" or something like that. But instead it's dubbed the "Because We Can" tour.
Guitarist Richie Sambora had a good reason though.
"We never thought of it," he said.
Keyboardist David Bryan jumped in to elaborate.
"Yeah, it's really true," he said. "It just kind of fell on that particular portion of our existence as a band. I don't think anybody's thinking that this is some kind of finite beginning or end at that point."
The reason Bryan was able to chime in like that was because we were all participating in a teleconference together, along with drummer Tico Torres and a few dozen reporters from around the U.S. This is how interviews are often conducted — en masse — when your band has sold over 130 million records. Mr. Jon Bon Jovi himself wasn't on the call; no doubt he was off riding a steel horse somewhere in a blaze of glory.
Bon Jovi, the band, has had its ups and downs over such an extended span of time, as you'd expect, but they never really went away. Even at the height of early '90s alternative, when Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and friends wiped the sonic slate clean and made much of what happened in the 1980s painfully passe, the band got some haircuts, found new management and made a record called Keep the Faith that climbed to number five on the Billboard 200. In 1992. As we were all sitting around and chuckling about the demise of hair band phenomena, Bon Jovi were still selling out stadiums all over the planet and racking up the royalties every time "Livin' on a Prayer" was played in every bar in America an hour before last call. On their worst day, when they seemed the most out of touch with mainstream pop culture (which I would guess to be somewhere around 1996) Bon Jovi was still succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of 99.99% of the bands in existence. Lesson learned: Bon Jovi always gets the last laugh.
They had to work hard at it though, pushing forward to make sure they connected with modern radio-listening audiences and not just rapidly aging holdovers from 1987. Part of this meant periodically updating their sound and their production style. Finding the right producer for each album was hugely important for their continued success. I asked Richie Sambora how they kept up with the new production methods and effects through the years.
"We have a Ouija Board, man," he said.
"We have a special magic cube that says how to produce stuff in every decade," added Bryan.
"And for the live shows it's important too," Sambora continued. "We have a great bunch of guys that are working with us, very creative, to come up with something that's different, that's never been done before by anybody. We sometimes try to do that. So it just enhances the show, and when people come they're not seeing the same thing they've seen another year in the past, they're seeing something totally new. Which enhances the song, and the band, so it makes them come out and watch the show and enjoy it."
Once the sullen, ironic '90s gave way to the let's-just-dance-and-have-fun 2000s, Bon Jovi was back for good. And with less irony, too.
The new album is going to be called What About Now, and it's as slick, poppy and radio-friendly as you would expect. It will probably do very well once it's released in the spring, and with 30 years under their belt, the band doesn't really have anything left to worry about. They already won.
And when they play at Mohegan Sun Saturday night, you'll probably have lots of fun if you go. Don't be skeptical. Don't think about it too hard. Don't critique it. Just apply some Aqua Net, grab some beers and sing along to every song. It's an ultimate American experience on par with going to a ball game or fireworks on the 4th of July. It's a Bon Jovi concert.