Bon Jovi | Hyde Park | 5 July 2013
Will he? Won’t he? Ever since abruptly – and mysteriously – quitting Bon Jovi back in April, Richie Sambora’s appearance at the inaugural British Summer Time festival has been in doubt. The ongoing public spat with Jon Bon Jovi – “Hire the Edge,” he suggested after the frontman praised U2’s guitarist – didn’t bode well. Nor did his comment to The Sun earlier this week: “I am not going to be on stage at Hyde Park sadly. It’s just not happening right now.”
Yet, right until the band step out, there are murmurings of buried hatchets and a surprise appearance.
Of course he’s a no-show, but the accompanying sense of disappointment is short-lived. As the group deliver the opening one-two punch of ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ and ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ it’s obvious that, in the live arena at least, their co-founder is largely expendable. Stand-in/replacement Phil X almost perfectly recreates Sambora’s wiggly solos and, as the night progresses, even duplicates his signature talk-box action during ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and ‘It’s My Life’.
To be fair, as long as they get to hear faithful facsimiles of big songs like these, the average punter sweating in today’s summer sun doesn’t actually care who’s standing beneath the giant tree on Hyde Park’s stage. The singer up there knows that, leading his band through a high-energy set that mirrors their Greatest Hits tracklisting. Adrenalised versions of ‘Keep The Faith’, ‘Bad Medicine’, ‘Have A Nice Day’, ‘Raise Your Hands’, ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ and ‘Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night’ leave little room for the obligatory lighter-waving big ballads ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ and ‘Always’. Oddly, considering the number of soundalike newer songs performed (‘Because We Can’, ‘What About Now’, ‘We Weren’t Born To Follow’ et al), ‘Bed Of Roses’ doesn’t even get a look-in.
So it’s genuinely surprising that JBJ makes time for three lesser-known classics. The blue collar epics ‘These Days’ and ‘Blood On Blood’ showcase the songwriter’s finest moments of Bruce Springsteen hero worship, while the sweeping ‘Dry County’ remains the most ambitious – and accomplished – song in his back catalogue. If these fan favourites are a reward for the diehards who’ve stuck around despite an underwhelming new album and Sambora’s ongoing absence, it’s worked. A man down, Bon Jovi have proved they’re still capable of recapturing past glories.