“100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong,” which is what the blockbuster rock band called its retrospective boxed set in 2004. But one frontman can be.
Jon Bon Jovi showed up at sold-out Xcel Energy Center Sunday without founding guitarist Richie Sambora. Sambora unexpectedly didn’t play on Tuesday in Calgary and the band announced that he would be sitting out this leg of its tour. The guitarist tweeted Wednesday that he was “well” and taking care of “personal business” in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, TMZ, the not-necessarily-reliable celebrity website, reported that Sambora was feuding with Jon Bon Jovi over money and being “belittled” by him. The New York Post, a noisy tabloid, suggested that Jon Bon Jovi’s wife objected to Sambora’s hard-partying ways.
No need to take sides between these two Jersey boys. But I’m going to stick up for 18,000 fans, who shelled out as much as $150 Sunday.
This 2¾-hour performance felt like the Jon Bon Jovi Show, not a Bon Jovi concert. He seemed oblivious to his bandmates, treating them more like sidemen. It was more than 90 minutes into the show before he even tried to connect with substitute guitarist Phil X (surname Xenidis). But the singer acted like the anonymous guy with the shaggy hair on his face was Fill In, not the same replacement from 2011 for 13 gigs when Sambora went to rehab.
Truth be told, X was not especially assertive Sunday, tentative at times and serviceable at best.
Bon Jovi himself was less impressive than in previous shows. He took a good 45 minutes to get warmed up. At 51, he wasn’t as physically active as in the past, even though he knows how to strike the right rock-star poses, punching the air and shaking his booty at fans.
To be sure, Jon Bon Jovi was his usual charming self, making jokes about Justin Bieber and doing his strutting rooster impression of Mick Jagger while singing the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.”
The singer caught fire when he summoned his Jersey rock ’n’ soul on the stomping “We Got It Goin’ On,” the big ballad “I’ll Be There for You” and the boardwalk stroll “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which was his big country hit duet with Jennifer Nettles.
He had no vocal helpers Sunday, save for the fans who sang along on anthem after anthem, including “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Before the final encore, he took a bow with his bandmates — two members of Bon Jovi and three hired guns — and later introduced them, without mentioning Sambora.
What did fans think about Sambora’s absence?
“I couldn’t care less,” said Raleigh Zatz of Eagan. “Jon is one of the performers who gets better with years.”
“He’s so hot,” added her 16-year-old daughter, Sydney.
Saying she was nervous about no Sambora, Tonia Wuethrich of Greenwood, Wis., a fan of 30 years, said “it was definitely different. You hear it more in some songs than others. I miss the banter onstage. Jon seems like he has a lot on his mind.”
Would fans want to see the Stones without Keith Richards? U2 without the Edge? Mötley Crüe without Tommy Lee?
Why did Jon Bon Jovi do a Bon Jovi tour without Richie Sambora, his co-writer and mate of 30 years?
Because he’s as stubborn and egomaniacal as Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose? Because the show must go on? Because the band grosses $2 million a night? Or ’cause it’s called the Because We Can Tour?
Whatever his reasons, Jon Bon Jovi gives loyalty a bad name.
set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719