Las Vegas Review-Journal- April 23, 2001

Desert air doesn't stop band
Fan-pleasing songs backbone of Bon Jovi concert 

It's Saturday night, and Jamie Smith, a 26-year-old blond history major, is crying in her wedding outfit. Go-go boots, white miniskirt, sequin tank top. It's a happy occasion for Smith, who has a tragic Bon Jovi story, which I'll tell you in a minute. 

Smith and her Cincinnati sweetheart won a radio contest and were flown to Las Vegas, to see Bon Jovi perform at the MGM Grand Garden arena and to be shuttled at midnight to a big white tent behind Graceland Wedding Chapel. That's where Smith and 74 other Bon Jovi-loving couples wait to get married. 

Someone resembling the late lumpy Elvis officiates the mass nuptials, followed by a two-song performance by Bon Jovi's lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi, and guitarist Richie Sambora, while international paparazzi snap and tape. 

But first, there's the 2 1/2-hour rock concert. 

Smith shimmers in section L11, row K, halfway back in the crowd of women and men in their 20s and 30s, most of whom now eschew the dress style that rock fans clung to in the 1980s, when Bon Jovi became famous No more mall hair. No more mullets. They wear khakis and blue jeans. 

Jon Bon Jovi looks different than before, too. He has slipped his 39-year-old jogging legs into gold pants. On stage, he sheds a denim jacket and unbuttons his shirt to let sweat spray off his ribbed abdominal muscles, delighting wide-eyed, singalong women. 

Smith describes the pop-rock star for us in her scratchy voice: "He's hot. He's breathtakingly beautiful, and gorgeous, and perfect, and soulful, and wonderful!" 

Jon Bon Jovi hasn't played Vegas for eight years (desert air dries his throat), so he preps the patients: "You think Saturday nights are meant to last? ... You ain't seen nothin' like me in a long time." Standing fans scream louder, and he works them up more by skipping backward and doing jumping jacks. 

The sound system is great. You can hear most every note and lyric. The concert is a recitation of Bon Jovi hits and a few, new, less-catchy songs. Bon Jovi doesn't offer critical ears much of a chance to analyze the music. 

For most of their two-decade career, the band has used professional songwriters to help write uncomplicated pop-rock hits. So there's a sameness to most songs: chorus A, chorus B, repeat, climax, dramatic finish. 

The drummer creates an arena-rock sound by pounding out the same basic rhythm. Most of Saturday night goes thump, pop, thump, pop ... drum fill. 

Jon Bon Jovi doesn't play much guitar, leaving guitarist Sambora to play both lead and rhythm. Double-duty demands that Sambora seldom gets to quick-finger solos. The lack of solos makes it more important for the band to give listeners catchy hooks to sing along to. 

There are a lot of old familiar choruses for fans to test their memories on, from "You Give Love A Bad Name" to "Livin' On A Prayer," "I'll Be There For You," and "Lay Your Hands On Me." Their best is still the aching cowboy song "Wanted Dead Or Alive," and their shame is still "Bad Medicine" ("whoa-oh-oh, shake it up, just like bad medicine. ... So let's play doctor, baby, cure my disease.') 

Jon Bon Jovi is a charismatic showman. His wry smile flashes on the giant video monitor behind the stage. You can imagine the swoons. The band does covers of the party classics "Shout," "Tequila" and a dead-on Beatleslike version of "Twist and Shout," which makes even a non-Bon Jovi fan swivel stupidly like Ferris Bueller on a day off. 

Bon Jovi's new hit, "It's My Life," has sent the band back on tour in arenas and stadiums. It's an inspirational pop-rock declaration of self-determination. It's similar to the song they play after it, the older "Keep the Faith." The message in both is self-helpy: hang on, and you will make life better, and you will survive. 

Jamie Smith relates, she says at the chapel tent, after the concert, after the wedding, and after Jon Bon Jovi (who got married at the chapel 12 years ago) and Sambora perform two pretty songs, "Thank You For Loving Me" and Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." 

About a decade ago, Smith's younger sister Nickie slipped and fell in her bathroom and died at 16. Nickie was a huge Bon Jovi fan. Smith carries her torch song. She thinks Nickie helped her, from heaven, during the radio contest. 

"Jon Bon Jovi was her man," Smith beams with bittersweet. "They make me feel her. Right now, she's up there. She won this for me. She's doing back flips up there." 

Smith and her man Eric Hammer, a 26-year-old beginning filmmaker dressed in white as young Elvis, were named "Best Couple," probably because they looked great. Hammer, who favors Nick Cage, held a bottle of Andre champagne and kept exclaiming, "How beautiful is my wife?" 

For the radio contest, Hammer used the melody of "Dead or Alive" to sing, "You're wanted, to be my bride." Smith accepted by changing the words to "I'll Be There For You" to "I will marry you. These four words I swear to you." 

That was on St. Patrick's Day. Hammer marvels at how fast it all went down: "A month later, we're standing in Vegas in a tent in the middle of the night." 

His woman laughs and cries, before they hop a bus to a honeymoon: 

"I don't have very good karma. I don't have very good luck. But this week has been great."