BON JOVI: ONE WILD NIGHT: LIVE 1985-2001 (2001)
1) It's My Life; 2) Livin' On A Prayer; 3) You Give Love A Bad Name; 4) Keep The Faith; 5) Someday I'll Be Saturday Night; 6) Rockin' In The Free World; 7) Something To Believe In; 8) Wanted Dead Or Alive; 9) Runaway; 10) In And Out Of Love; 11) I Don't Like Mondays; 12) Just Older; 13) Something For The Pain; 14) Bad Medicine; 15) One Wild Night.
It is very hard to decide whether a Bon Jovi live album would be better thought of as a single performance from a single show (or at least a bunch of shows from the same tour), or as a sprawling retrospective like this one, with performances drawn from 1985, before they even matured into major stars; 1995-96 (the height of the «rebranding» era); and the most recent tour in support of Crush. Normally, tight and compact works best for live performance, but only when the band in question is tight and compact, and can boast a fabulous live sound; with Bon Jovi, chances of their ever producing a Live At Leeds have always been negative at best.
As it happens, though, it really does not matter: Bon Jovi have always been a rather boring band when plopped on stage. Sure they had the looks, and the hair, and wings to fly (sometimes almost literally so), but they never truly gave any of their songs any additional life on stage, beyond maybe an extended intro or two (these days, for instance, they always start off ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ with an actual simulation of a «musical prayer», which may last almost as long as the song itself — not here, fortunately, where there is just a little bit of atmospheric talkbox fun before the entire band kicks in). This is actually quite normal for a «pop» band — which they were despite all the «rock» trappings — and if one does not demand radical stage reinventions from Paul McCartney, why should one do so with Bon Jovi?
The problem being, of course, that Bon Jovi play Bon Jovi songs. Mostly — sometimes, when they play non-Bon Jovi songs, you wish they wouldn't: Neil Young's ʽRockin' In The Free Worldʼ loses all of its tragic flavor when stripped of Neil Young's voice and Neil Young's guitar, in the place of which we have Bon Jovi choral harmonies and hair-metallic Samborisms — melodic all right, but without any individual style. From the same 1995 tour, they also include a duet with Bob Geldof on ʽI Don't Like Mondaysʼ — nice song, sure enough, but why would the world need a Bon Jovi version? It's essentially a vocal-driven musical number, to which Jon cannot add anything that is not already present in Geldof's vocal timbre. It goes without saying that they could have done much worse (for instance, chosen an Osmonds song to cover), but these particular examples are totally uninspiring.
As for the originals, it's competence throughout and brilliance nowhere in sight. The talkbox sounds terrific on ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ, blown into with even more versatility than in the studio (considering that this version is from 2000, I guess you can't go wrong with more than 15 years of experience), but the vocals are consistently weaker — not out of tune or anything, just sort of feeble; with all due respect, Jon has always been more of a looker than a singer, and although in the studio he can usually work hard enough to get that «perfect take» or close to it, live you really have to see him to fall in love with him, if you're the falling-in-love kind: Mr. Tom Jones he ain't. Just compare the studio and live versions of ʽKeep The Faithʼ for proof.
The good news, and the only reason why the record will not be getting a thumbs down from me, is that they intentionally avoid allmost of their power ballads — how this happened, I don't know, but there's no ʽI'll Be There For Youʼ, no ʽBed Of Rosesʼ, nothing. They must have performed them, but they aren't here: the album relies almost exclusively upon «rocking» material. This is sort of an uncommercial decision, and if it was undertaken in order to make way for the retrospective approach and make more space for old renditions of ʽRunawayʼ and ʽIn And Out Of Loveʼ, so much the better. Still, the album as a whole — and any other live Bon Jovi album — may really only be recommended to people who probably do not read these reviews.
And, although this really has nothing to do with the music, what's up with the incongruent title? Is this One Wild Night or Live 1985-2001? Or is this a subtle metaphorical point — that the entire time from 1985 to 2001 has, for this particular band, been like «one wild night»? If so, it's not as if the metaphor were seriously substantiated by these performances, whose level of «wildness» often leaves a lot to be desired. These guys aren't cavemen by no means — they are very much a product of the technological era.