Jon Bon Jovi’s kicked off his band’s first-ever performance in Israel Saturday evening by telling 50,000 cheering Israelis “I’ve waited a long time for this!”
A few songs into the show, he underlined his empathy with Israel by introducing a new song called “We Don’t Run,” released earlier this summer, with the comment: “This should be the fight song for Tel Aviv.”
And later in the performance, the New Jersey-born rocker name-checked his keyboard player, the Jewish musician David Bryan (Rashbaum), by saying that “your father would be proud of you” for being in Israel pounding the piano.
Probably unbeknown to the band, the concert began minutes after a terrorist attack in Jerusalem 60 kilometers (some 40 miles) away, when a Palestinian man stabbed two Israelis to death in the Old City, and injured two others.
“Good evening Tel Aviv, Israel! Are you ready for rock ‘n roll? I’ve waited a long time for this, baby!” Bon Jovi called out to fans packed into Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park before opening with the song “That’s What the Water Made Me.”
“We finally made it here. It took us a long time, and we still have a ways to go tonight. Are you with me?” he asked.
In an 18-song setlist, fans were treated to some of Bon Jovi’s newer material as well as the group’s biggest hits, including “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” and, at the end of the long set, “Livin on a Prayer.”
The 53-year-old musician was upbeat and energetic throughout, constantly encouraging the audience to clap and sing along, and having them sing solo at the start of “Wanted Dead or Alive.” He introduced that song by asking, “Forgive me an innocent question: Are there any cowboys in Israel?”
Unremarkably, Bon Jovi’s decision to play in Israel had led to pressure from boycott activists and criticism from anti-Israel fellow rocker Roger Waters.
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Waters and other supporters of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement urged the band to cancel the concert, but a local promoter said that Bon Jovi, a longtime Democrat who recently hosted a fundraiser for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, “couldn’t care less.”
The band and its leader were evidently unfazed by the criticism. Arriving in Israel on Friday, they had greeted fans and briefly spoken to journalists, with Bon Jovi saying he and the band were “happy to finally be here” on what was the last performance of their 2015 world tour.
When asked why the band had never played in Israel before, Bon Jovi jokingly pointed at his tour promoter, and said, “Blame Marcel, he’s never let us come.”
“But, no, we’re happy to finally be here. This is a place that I’ve always wanted to come to, so this was the perfect opportunity to finally come to Israel,” Bon Jovi said.
He said he hoped to tour in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the band’s stay.
Speaking to the Hebrew press last Friday, Bon Jovi said he “always heard what a wonderful place Israel is – the birthplace of all religions.
“I have been everywhere and Israel was a place that I’ve always wanted to visit, but it never worked out. This time I insisted that Israel must be on our list and it happened!”
Underlining the sentiment, he ended Saturday’s show with a promise: “I’ll come here any time you want.”
Jessica Steinberg and JTA contributed to this report.