A few words of advice for the Bon Jovi clan: Ritchie, quit trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughan. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. So enough already. Tico, quit smoking in front of the kids so much. David, get a damn haircut already. And Jon, you ain’t no Garth Brooks, my man. I knew Garth Brooks and…….ah, never mind. So what the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that the kings of arena pop-rock have gone and turned themselves into goddamn cowboys — and on steel horses they ride.
Riding on the success of the countrified remake of their 2006 single, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a duet with Jennifer Nettles that reached #1 on the U.S. country music chart that same year, Bon Jovi done picked up and moved to Nashville to record an entire album’s worth of countrified tunes. And as it turned out, this was exactly what the world had been waiting for. Lost Highway debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, the band’s first album to do so. The following year they recorded and released the accompanying concert DVD, Bon Jovi Lost Highway: The Concert, where they performed the new album in its entirety.
Now we have another new Bon Jovi concert DVD, and a proper one at that, recorded on July 14th and 15th, 2008 at Madison Square Garden before a sell-out crowd that witnessed a career-spanning set of hits, new songs, and even a deep cut or two. Live At Madison Square Garden was directed by Anthony Bongiovi (Jon’s brother) and Brian Lockwood, and was only recently released in the U.S. and Canada on May 11th of this year. The rest of the world was able to pick it up last November.
The concert begins in a rather lackluster fashion with Jon being filmed from behind as he walks out on stage just as the stage lights heat up, and he and the band break into “Lost Highway.” Not that it’s a bad song, but it’s just a poor choice to open the show with. I always hate it when a band begins a concert with a ballad or a song that is not one of their classics. From there, Jon and the boys take you on a career-spanning trip down memory lane, throwing in a few curve balls along the way.
They travel as far back as to their 1984, self-titled debut with “Runaway,” still a big guilty pleasure, and as recent as three cuts from the Lost Highway album. In between, they cover most of the essentials like “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “Keep The Faith,” and “It’s My Life,” while also throwing in some lesser known fan favorites like “Blood on Blood” and a tour-de-force performance of “Dry County.”
Halfway into the set Jon leaves the stage to take a break, handing the reins over to Richie Sambora, who turns in a wonderfully soulful performance of “I’ll Be There For You.” Sambora’s background and harmony vocals have always been an essential element of the Bon Jovi sound, but here he proves that he is a decent lead vocalist in his own right. When Jon returns for the second half of the set, he takes a casual stroll through the audience, smacking hands with all of the nearly orgasmic women along the way as he belts out “Blood On Blood.” Damn, that guy still looks incredible for his age. I’m not gay or anything; it was just what my wife said about him 50 or so times while we watched the DVD together.
Before they close out the show with a couple of conquering Slippery When Wet anthems, “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and “Livin’ On A Prayer,” Jon first shows off his vocal prowess with a poignant rendition of the Leonard Cohen masterpiece, “Hallelujah.” He didn’t exactly blow me away like when I first saw Jeff Buckley perform the song, but I was still pleasantly surprised by Jon’s performance. His vocals were spot on throughout the whole concert too.
Live At Madison Square Garden was shot with 23 high definition cameras and, although the picture and audio quality are both very good, they are not likely to make you say “wow” like some of the best concert DVDs out there do. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 stereo tracks are mixed fairly well, but they sound more like studio releases than a live show, so some of that live dynamic was missing for me as I watched. Particularly impressive is Bongiovi’s excellent camera direction, as he avoids the quick cuts that are so prevalent on most concert DVDs today, and really let you breathe in the performance with plenty of lingering shots of the entire stage.
Unlike the Blu-ray edition, which also includes the excellent “When We Were Beautiful” documentary, the DVD edition does not include any bonus features. Oh, that’s right, “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “Runaway,” and “Bed of Roses” where also relegated to the bonus-features section instead of being part of the main feature. They still have 5.1 surround audio mixes attached, so I would really love to know the brilliant reasoning behind that decision. The packaging is also very misleading, as it lists all of the songs together as one set, including “Bad Medicine,” which is only played over the ending credits, and is not a live performance. WTF?
With all of its flaws aside, Live At Madison Square Garden is probably still overall the best Bon Jovi concert DVD to date, and should satisfy most fans. You can pick it up at your local Walmart for only $9.99 – so now you have no excuse.
01. Lost Highway
02. Born To Be My Baby
03. Blaze Of Glory
04. It’s My Life
05. Keep The Faith
06. Raise Your Hands
07. Living In Sin
08. Chapel Of Love
10. Whole Lot Of Leavin’
11. In These Arms
12. We Got It Going On
13. I’ll Be There For You
14. (You Want to) Make A Memory
15. Blood On Blood
16. Dry County
17. Have A Nice Day
18. Who Says You Can’t Go Home
20. Wanted Dead or Alive
21. Livin’ On A Prayer
Performance – 7/10
Production – 8/10