Bon Jovi’s concert at TD Garden on Monday was fine. No more and no less.
Even seated in excellent position in a loge section, I had trouble discerning the details in a muddled, half-there sound mix. But there were few sharp edges to hear anyway. That’s not what Bon Jovi does. Its indistinct sound and cliche-peppered lyrics are meant to feel vaguely familiar in a pleasing way, but inoffensive — as if assembled by a focus group in the bowels of the Mall of America.
But there’s a reason radio-hit bands play shows at places like the Garden and we go see them. It’s fun. Energetic. The lack of intimacy can be compensated for by the communal buzz of a mass ruckus. The sense of calculation baked into an inflexible setlist can be redeemed by outsized gestures of stagecraft. And with a legacy act like Bon Jovi whose most recent album went to the top of the charts, it’s also a chance for fans to cathartically demonstrate the group’s enduring relevance. There’s value in big, silly arena-rock shows, and not just as a guilty pleasure.
I’m a firm believer in reviewing art on its own terms before looking at it in a broader creative context. You don’t go see the Rolling Stones play and complain that there weren’t enough flute solos. But this concert had few missteps and yet was still resoundingly “meh.”
The group’s essential earnestness — as clocked by ever-amiable frontman Jon Bon Jovi, who beamed a bright smile and made you want to see him succeed — was admirable, but laid bare the lack of personality in the material. As far as stagecraft, most of the money seemed to go toward a set of telescoping light rigs that rose from and descended back into the stage in a busy but not-terribly-exciting show of mechanical choreography. The frontman also made his way into the crowd to deliver 2013 ballad “Amen” from among his fans, the only real tonal change of pace all night.
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home” offered some punch and “Keep the Faith” had some ballast to it. “Lay Your Hands On Me,” crunchy and corny, landed as a relief because it swaggered. “Have A Nice Day” featured the seven-member ensemble operating at full blast.
It was fun to watch the evident excitement of guitarist Phil X, who took that chair when Richie Sambora left the band a few years ago and who seemed genuinely thrilled at each instance of the happy crowd singing along. The relative lack of spectacle put the focus on the music, a move I’d typically salute. But given such middling fare I was craving a bit of pyrotechnics — figuratively or literally. Or attitude. Or at least some leather pants or something. Work with me here.
The group drew from its full catalog — a catalog that will be canonized at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month — and it’s worth noting that the sound wasn’t welded to any particular decade.
I understand it was just meant to be musical comfort food. But it was weak gruel.
At TD Garden, MondayJeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.