By MANTA KLANGBOONKRONG
THE BANGKOK CONCERT calendar had a sudden surprise addition on Tuesday when venerable American pop-metal band Bon Jovi found time on their Asian tour to do an unplanned show at Impact Arena, marking their visit here in 20 years.
“Surprise! Bangkok, how are you doing?” Jon Bon Jovi shouted as the gig got underway. “Thank you for coming out tonight, especially on such short notice! When we needed a place to play, our friends in Bangkok said, ‘Come home,’ and we did. It’s good to be back!”
The show had been announced less than a week before, but still drew a decent turnout, filling about three-quarters of the arena – not that Bon Jovi lacks enthusiastic fans in Thailand.
The band took the stage with founding members Jon Bon Jovi, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan, joined by lead guitarist Phil X, bassist Hugh McDonald and – newly recruited just ahead of the Asia tour – rhythm guitarist Matt O’Ree.
The singer’s reference to “coming home” was the cue for the opening song, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”. That was followed by “Have a Nice Day”, a pop-rock ballad from 2005, and the tracks “Lost Highway” and “Whole Lot of Leavin’” from the 2007 album “Lost Highway”.
“We’re going to play some old songs, too – don’t you worry!” Bon Jovi promised, as if he were reading the fans’ minds, and quickly delivered with the metal anthem “Raise Your Hands” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” from their 1986 breakthrough third album “Slippery When Wet”.
The band then switched back to more recent hits – “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, “We Don’t Run” from the latest album “Burning Bridges”, the timeless “It’s My Life”, “Because We Can”, “What About Now” and “We Got It Goin’ On”.
Everyone was thoroughly enjoying the trip back in time, but we couldn’t help missing the presence of Richie Sambora, the hugely popular guitarist and songwriter who founded the group along with Jon Bon Jovi and was crucial in establishing its gravitas as well as its sound.
Fans used to drool over Sambora’s rich, blues-tinged solos and his terrific chemistry with the lead singer. Together they presented a grand stage persona and proper rock ’n’ roll showmanship.
None of this is to detract from the talents of Phil X, however. He does a fine job filling Sambora’s shoes, and it would be unfair to compare him to his predecessor. But, for a lot of the fans, it was hard to hear someone else’s voice coming through the talk box on “It’s My Life”.
The show continued without a break, old favourites piling up like “In These Arms”, “Wanted Dead or Alive” – which had the crowd singing along – “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, “Keep the Faith” and “Bad Medicine”. They finally disappeared backstage, but the fans, wanting more of this unexpected pleasure, screamed for an encore.
Within minutes the band reappeared and Job Bon Jovi hollered out, “Are you still with me, Bangkok? Do you want more?” The crowd roared in reply. “All right,” he said, and pointed to a mob in the front row. “I’m going to play a song that is older than you are!”
With that, “Runaway” from their 1984 self-titled debut album began with a bang, to be quickly followed by “Have a Nice Day”. The singer then asked permission to do “We Don’t Run” one more time for a music video, and no one was going to deny them the opportunity.
As if in gratitude for being allowed to play that tune twice, the band kept the encore rolling with “Born to Be My Baby” from the 1988 album “New Jersey” and ended, after two hours, with “Livin’ On a Prayer”.
There aren’t many bands around whose music truly has a life of its own, but Bon Jovi is undoubtedly one of them, leaving a legacy that’s sure to endure. Their songs remain as stirring and relevant as ever in this digital age, resonating with fans old and new. The original members, now into their 50s and 60s, can still own the stage and mesmerise the audience the same way they did decades ago.