On a hot Tel Aviv night, over 45,000 people rocked out during the triumphant return of classic rock band Bon Jovi. Considering I have a word limit, “on a hot Tel Aviv night” may have been the most unnecessary lede in the history of journalism. Then again, some called this very concert “unnecessary” after the band’s 2015 visit.
Friend: “They were just here a few years ago. Isn’t it too soon?”
Me: “THAT’S too soon? We’re having national elections twice in five months.”
When you can revisit the songs that made “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” two of the best-selling albums of the 1980s, it’s never too soon. And having attended both shows, I can honestly say, to my surprise, that Thursday night exceeded my expectations.
Produced by Live Nation Israel, the two-and-a half hour sold-out performance began with “This House is Not for Sale,” the name of the tour and a reminder of the challenges of home ownership in Israel. (The tour has already earned over $43 million, roughly the asking price for a crappy studio on Dizengoff street.)
Jon took the stage wearing a long-sleeved shirt with some kind of red and white design (I wasn’t sent for my fashion credentials, as evidenced by my “Three’s Company” t-shirt). From the start, he urged the crowd to clap, sing, and add our “na na”s during “Born to Be My Baby.”
Two songs in, Jon said his first words: “Well, good evening, Tel Aviv. I told you we’d be back, we have lots of catching up to do, I’m not going to do a lot of talking.” If there’s one thing this region could use more of, it’s people who are happy to not do a lot of talking.
Fans were treated to a longer setlist than in 2015 with a mix of newer songs from the 21st century and the classics that made Bon Jovi a staple of late ’80s/early ’90s MTV. (For the younger readers, not only did MTV once play music videos, we had to wait to hear our favorite songs. And, no, not because the internet was slower.)
His ’80s ‘do long gone, Jon didn’t need his old hairstyle to impress the crowd. (No word as to whether he chopped it to avoid the haircut prohibition leading up to Tisha B’av, the timing of which would also explains the absence of Haredim at the show.) We were impressed before the concert even began, remembering the band’s fantastic 2015 performance, during which Jon voiced his support and love for the country. It was reported that this time around, the band was sent more than 5,000 letters from BDS activists urging them to cancel the performance. (Fortunately they were mailed through the Israeli postal service and never arrived.) Bon Jovi clearly meant what he said, reminding the crowd that he dedicated “We Don’t Run” to the people of Israel in 2015.
One of the audience favorites was the ballad “Bed of Roses,” during which Jon brought a woman out of the crowd to dance with, hug, and even kiss. Surely a moment she will never forget… along with the other woman who ran onto the stage just seconds later for a similar experience. Two dates in four minutes. Even for Tel Aviv, that’s crazy.
But if you think it was only the women who were under Bon Jovi’s spell, think again. As the show drew to its conclusion, tens of thousands of people clapped and sang in unison “Lay Your Hands on Me” with a muscular, hairy arm emerging from the crowd to clasp hands with the lead singer.
During “Always,” I was surrounded by bald-headed men who, just years after doing who-knows-what in the army, were now telling the world that they would in fact “love you, bay-beeeeeehhhhh….. AAAAAAL-WAAAAAAYS.” And who could blame them? The video screens had countless shots of Jon’s stunning eyes and smile. I don’t know the origin of the phrase “Men want to be him and women want to be WITH him” (don’t tell me it was “Austin Powers”) but when I raised it to my friend, she said, “I think a lot of men want to be with him too.”
Richie Sambora may no longer be with the band but long-time fans enjoyed the familiar faces of keyboard player David Bryan (the guy with Izhar Cohen’s haircut, just blonde) and drummer Tico Torres (no blonde perm). Apologies to guitar player Phil X for his name (פיל) resembling “elephant” in Hebrew. During the encore, Bryan came out in a “Guns and Moses” t-shirt which at least partially answers the question, “Who in the world has been keeping the ‘Guns and Moses’ t-shirt industry in business all these years?”
The night’s energy climaxed with “Bad Medicine,” as the band kept going and going, even when the song seemed to be over. A few minutes later, they played their final song, the massive hit “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Jon even changed the words to: “Tommy used to work on the docks, Ashdod’s been on strike, he’s charging a 100% import tax on my Amazon shipment.” Ok, so that may not be true. Although he did dedicate “Wanted Dead or Alive” to Hassan Nasrallah. (No, he didn’t.)
Jon may have struggled to hit the same high notes he sang 30 years ago, but I can’t imagine that anyone cared. He gave us his all and when the night ended, the final show on this leg of the tour, he looked totally exhausted yet utterly fulfilled. The band members high-fived each other and hugged, bringing their travels to a close. And the word “LEGEND” on the back of Jon’s jacket said it all.
Thanks to Bon Jovi for a truly unforgettable night, and if you come back again next summer, it won’t be too soon. But as for elections….