February 13, 2003
Philips Arena-Atlanta


Goo Goo Dolls:

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The “Go-Go Dolls” (as an audience member referred to them) started out their three-quarters of an hour set kind of slow. While bassist-vocalist Robbie Takac was entertaining to watch as he tossed his hair and loped about the stage as if he loved being in that moment, resident sex symbol/guitarist-vocalist John Rzeznick just seemed bored.

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They did play all of their mid-tempo hits, which (ironically) kept the band from ever really catching fire. There were no real dynamics and they didn’t come out swinging like they could and should have. It was no surprise when “Iris” got the biggest response. Still, by and large, the crowd was holding out for the headliners.

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So why is Bon Jovi the only 80s hair metal band that can still sell-out arenas? One reason is that they became a bit more serious in song subject matter than their colleagues. At some point, Bon Jovi became Bruce Springsteen-lite –making the transition from singing about sleeping with as many groupies as possible (“In And Out Of Love”) to anthems about hard working every day people like Tommy and Gina (“Living On A Prayer”).  In Atlanta, Jon even ripped off Springsteen’s wide legged stance and habit of saluting the sky with his back to the crowd. Certainly, this macho posturing served his career better than imitating his previous idol, girly-man Paul Stanley, and it has made Jon a more enduring sex symbol. And is it just me, or is Jon looking just a little effeminate lately? His tight pants emphasized hips and a butt like J-Lo. I mean, he’s got some junk in the trunk. Still, every time he smiled into the video cameras, grown women would turn to each other and giggle. And he’s aged better than anyone else from that era, looking different than he used to but not really older. At one point he even acknowledged his swoon factor by saying, “Justin Timberlake, eat your heart out, baby!” And like Timberlake is to his teen audience, Jon Bon Jovi was mister showman. Sure, the rock star act seemed phony at times, but it’s an act that this guy has mastered. When he stepped out onstage to earsplitting applause, Jon seemed honored and surprised by all the attention-like he doesn’t get a similar ovation in every city he plays. He also attempted to fill in the blank to personalize the concert. “Atlanta’s on fire these days, isn’t it?” he asked. I bet he says that to all the cities.  Jon even used over the top Broadway acting techniques to manufacture sentiment. At an appropriate moment he dropped to his knees and crouched in the spotlight, covering his face dramatically. Jon and guitarist Ritchie Sambora posed together every chance they had (not surprising since the merch stands were selling posters of “Bon Jovi” featuring only the two of them!). Tonight, the rest of the band was all but ignored. At least Ritchie got the chance to shine on “I’ll Be There For You” which found Mr. Heather Locklear front and center sounding just about the same as Jon’s vocal on the record.

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The set was well balanced between old and new material, delicately balancing “Wild In The Streets” with “It’s My Life.” They came out bouncing with, well…”Bounce” before sliding into “You Give Love A Bad Name,” which was probably most of the audience’s intro to the band.  Happy people time traveled during that one, dancing as if they were still teens. I saw plenty of date-groping and ass-patting among couples who seemed a bit old for such public antics. Strangely, there were hardly any lighters at all for power ballads like “Wanted Dead Or Alive”; everyone quit smoking years ago. The audience was clearly enraptured with the giant satellite dish video screens and liberal use of lasers. They were even too caught up in the moment to notice the minor technical flaws – rather plunky keyboards on “Runaway,” and the progressively nasal tone of Jon’s voice as the night wore on. They even cheered for the still embarrasing “Born to be my Baby,” which clearly ought to have been stashed in a closet somewhere with the snakeskin spandex of 1988. It was enough to make my dinner a little less settled. Somehow, Mr. Bon Jovi apparently felt my discomfort as he followed “Baby” by announcing, “Don’t worry mama, there’s a doctor in the house” as they launched into “Bad Medicine,” during which all three screens showed a video of a stripper dressed as a nurse. There were other elements of hair metal, of course. Surprisingly, the cheesy Slippery When Wet LP cut “Raise Your Hands” was the highlight of the night. It was unadulterated, unrefined cheese which brought back many memories of shopping malls and the smell of freshly permed hair. This is where Bon Jovi excels. When they’re having fun, they can’t be touched. During the set closing cover of the gospel flavored Isley Brothers classic “Shout,” the floor of Philips Arena actually shook. This show was infinitely more successful when the band adhered to its traditionally uplifting mood, which was clearly what the audience preferred. After the last song, the screens showed movie style credits naming the band members we had just seen, accompanied by “home footage” of the guys. This Hollywood-style ending was appropriate for what was, despite the minor criticisms, a truly entertaining performance. So what if some of it felt a bit artificial. It’s all show biz anyway. Besides, is there really anything wrong with escaping the specters of the world right now with some “Bad Medicine”?

(Amanda Stahl/

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