When Bon Jovi formed in 1983, it's safe to say no one expected the band to be as big as it is today. Twenty-five years after the band's self-titled debut came out, the band's latest disc, The Circle, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts this past November, proving the band's longevity and popularity.
If you ask keyboardist Dave Bryan what the secret to the band's success has been, he'll likely say that's it a combination of three things: strong songwriting, a top notch live show and hard work.
"It takes a lot of hard work to get lucky," he said. "And we've done a lot of hard work."
Above all else, however, "We always perform to a high standard and expect 150 percent effort from ourselves," Bryan said. "We've always respected the stage and always will."
In explaining the importance of the live show to the band's longstanding popularity, he said that the key is presenting the new material in a live setting. He believes that if people like the record but get to experience it live and see how much more intense an experience it is, that's what keeps them coming back for more.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the band has never been content to stagnate and stay in the same place musically. Although the changes from album to album might be slight in some places and drastic in others, Bryan said, "We keep trying to evolve and push the envelope. With Lost Highway (the band's previous album), we did the Nashville thing. We wanted to experiment, but we also didn't want to repeat ourselves."
In turn, Bon Jovi's latest disc, The Circle, is a return to the band's predominantly rock sound. In my opinion, it's the band's best disc since 1992's Keep the Faith and manages to not only tie together the band's past with touches of each of its previous albums, but keep the band moving and looking forward. The harder rocking tunes are balanced with the requisite ballads and mid-tempo numbers, but overall, it's one of the band's most consistent albums in well over a decade.
"This record wasn't planned," Bryan said. "You can't dictate the art of it. You just get the songs together and it dictates itself."
Spurred by my comments on the latest release, he also shared that he believed it came together so well because, "I think it just has some really strong songwriting on it. Once we put it together, we had some really strong songs, it rocks and we're really proud of and happy with it. And now we're playing most of it live."
Those who have followed Bon Jovi throughout the years know that although the group has thrived on chart-topping albums and countless hit singles, the band's strength truly is its live show. Whether playing the new songs or the old hits, the band injects a new vitality into each one with the live performance, which gives the songs an even longer lasting impression and impact.
Unlike many touring acts, if Bon Jovi has a new album out, you'll definitely hear a good portion of it.
While Bryan shared that two-thirds to three-quarters of the new disc is being played each night, the band also doesn't ignore its past. With a live show that reaches nearly two and a half hours, the band has time to cover all aspects of its career and a good number of its hits.
Even so, the set list is far from stagnant. Bryan said that when the group played back-to-back nights in Montreal recently, the crowd got two completely different shows, with 17 different songs swapped out between nights. When asked if the band approaches each city any differently, however, Bryan said, "We bring our 'A' game to each city.
"We tailor the set list for the tour, not for the city, and with 90-100 songs in our arsenal, we've got a lot to play and choose from each night. We're always ready for Jon to pull something out, but it's really about seeing what the mood of the night is. It's all about the emotional ride, so you just have to read the audience and take it from there."
Keeping the set list fresh not only benefits the fans but must also prove to keep things more interesting for the band. That's important to remember when realizing that Tuesday night's stop at BOK Center is early in the second leg of "The Circle" world tour, which is currently planned to include 135 shows in 30 countries throughout the next two years.
Nearly 27 years after forming the band, only one member, bassist Alec Jon Such, has departed the group -- a testament to the band's camaraderie and chemistry.
Although Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora are admittedly the main songwriters in the group, everyone remains a vital part of the process.
"We all add our personality to it," Bryan said. "We run the songs around the block and try different things and that's part of the band's chemistry. We don't just write it down and go with it, everyone contributes."
Nearly three decades in, the band is still running strong and doesn't look to have a horizon in sight. So just how long will Bon Jovi continue? "It's still fun," Bryan said. "If and when it stops being fun, then I guess we'll see. We don't need to do this, we want to do it and that makes all the difference.
"We wouldn't be doing it if the fans weren't there. We remember and acknowledge that."
Indeed, perhaps the biggest key to Bon Jovi's longevity has been its connection with its fans. Whether simply expressed with a great live show that manages to play most of the hits to keep fans happy while highlighting the new album, providing special packaging for the dedicated fans (the special edition release of The Circle included a making-of DVD), or holding a special contest to keep fans involved, Bon Jovi has consistently kept its audience in mind.
In fact, the current tour has a number of promotions currently underway, ranging from a video contest where fans can upload videos of them performing "Livin' on a Prayer" with each city's best videos appearing on the big screen while the band performs, to a recent contest (which ran through March 21) to create a video for the single "Superman Tonight," to an ongoing Twitter campaign that allows fans to win concert tickets, merchandise and signed CDs. Never content to sit back and ride on past accomplishments, the band is dedicated to keeping its fans engaged and keeping Bon Jovi moving forward.
Probably the biggest and most immediate reward for most fans, however, is definitely the live show. With a huge stage production that includes 16 trucks, 11 buses and a crew of 120 to keep the tour going across the country, the band always puts on an extravagant show. It's also one that will satisfy fans new and old as recent set lists have included anywhere from 22-29 songs each night, featuring no less than five cuts from the new CD and hitting on highlights from every part of the band's career, including a healthy dose of the '80s hits. Yes, you'll be sure to hear "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Bad Medicine," "Livin' on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive," as well as most of the other hidden treasures you've been missing.
It's been more than a decade since Bon Jovi came to Tulsa (the last show I personally remember was the "New Jersey" tour at the Convention Center in '88), so it will be a special event when the band performs at BOK Center Tuesday night, April 13. Dashboard Confessional opens the show at 7:30pm, and Admiral Twin will be playing on the outdoor stage sponsored by Urban Tulsa before the main event.
Tickets are still available at each price level, so don't miss an opportunity to see a band that's built its reputation on its live performance for 27 years. It's a show that will surely please fans new and old.
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