They've still got it: Bon Jovi rocks Charlotte

After not touring the United States for five years, Bon Jovi proved that it was far from a nostalgia band as it kicked off a national tour at Independence Arena Friday night.

The band played with the hunger of a new act, not a veteran rock band content to collect a paycheck.

"It's been like five years. A lot happens in five years," lead singer Jon Bon Jovi told the sold-out crowd in the approximately 10,000-seat arena. "You guys have been stuck listening to boy bands on the radio. We've got a band-band
tonight baby."

He was right.

Keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres hit their stride early, but the show belonged to Jon Bon Jovi and lead guitarist Richie Sambora. The two shared the spotlight throughout the night, with Sambora ripping off a finger-shredding guitar solo at least every other song.

Bon Jovi dominated hard rock in the '80s with the albums "Slippery When Wet" and "New Jersey." The New Jersey-based band has sold more than 80 million records, but hadn't released a studio album since 1995. (In the meantime, Jon Bon Jovi built a successful movie career, which he plugged during Friday's performance.) The group's latest multi-platinum album "Crush" sees the band's return to its arena rock roots, especially the single "It's My Life."

At Independence Arena, Bon Jovi exposed those roots in one song after another. The band played its biggest hits, along with several songs off "Crush."

The group opened with "One Wild Night," off "Crush," and before the crowd could catch its breath launched into "You Give Love a Bad Name." Highlights were the fist-pumping "Livin' on a Prayer," "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "It's
My Life." 

On "Blaze of Glory," which Jon Bon Jovi wrote and performed for the movie "Young Guns," Sambora played the twangy guitar parts as if they had been written for him. 

"I'm here for the duration," Jon Bon Jovi told the screaming audience. "You got me." 

It was more like he had them. Just when it seemed like the crowd - mostly people age 30 and over, and their kids - couldn't get any more feverish, Bon Jovi turned it up another notch. 

The weakest part of the performance was the sound system. It was fuzzy at times, earsplitting on high notes and wasn't strong enough to clearly carry Jon Bon Jovi's vocals over the band. And an annoying black box kept appearing
on the main screen.

Jon Bon Jovi, wearing tight jeans, a denim jacket and a black vest, made up for it with an exhausting performance. He was at his best when he left the guitar on the sideline. Then, he poured his energy into his vocals and dancing, which looked more like high-impact aerobics. He couldn't keep still. He intoxicated the crowd with his flurry of jumps and arm swings, and he fed off their energy. One time too many, he did a boxing thing, tossing out a couple of sloppy hooks and uppercuts to punctuate the end of a song.

The fans liked it anyway. Most stayed on their feet the entire night, even during "Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars," one of the weaker songs on "Crush." The disjointed song belongs on a "Dawson's Creek" soundtrack, not at a Bon Jovi concert.

Overall, Bon Jovi gave fans what they expected, and sort of like Frankie said: They did it their way.