It used to be something reserved for special occasions at your average Bon Jovi concert over the past 30 years - the appearance of an acoustic guitar.

Of course back in the day, you'd always see one in the hands of Richie Sambora picking out the first few verses of their mega-hit, 'Wanted Dead or Alive', or maybe they'd be featured when the band would open their show with a 'stripped down' set of their legendary 80's classics.

But in 2017, Sambora is long gone, and the acoustic guitar is now an integral part of a Bon Jovi show.

During Monday night's (March 27) tour stop at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the band spotlighted a number of tracks from their 13th studio album, This House is Not For Sale, and as has been the case on most of their albums since 2007's country-influenced album, Lost Highway, the acoustic guitar is becoming more and more a part of the Bon Jovi sound.

But is wasn't just the material that seemed different at this week's show. Not only was Sambora, Bon Jovi's long-time sidekick and collaborator, missing for the second straight tour (and probably for the rest of time), but so was the wall-to-wall energy you've come to expect from a Bon Jovi live show.

Some of that could be a byproduct of back-to-back gigs (the band played in Chicago, Sunday night).

Some might be the 55-year old Bon Jovi stopping the show quite often to reminisce and provide the backstories to the new songs.

But I think the biggest contributing factor to the energy shortage was the structure of the concert itself.

The band opened their set with a pair of songs from the new album (the title track and 'Knockout') which is always tricky, because the audience is left sitting on their hands for the first 10 minutes, waiting to respond to a song they recognize.

That payoff came three numbers in with a spirited rendition of the band's first #1 hit, 'You Give Love a Bad Name'. But that was immediately followed up by the twangy 'Lost Highway', the acoustic-centric 'Whole Lot of Leavin'', and another new song,
'Roller Coaster'.

Later in the set, Bon Jovi did something I've never seen them do before in the multiple times I've caught them live, feature four straight new songs. It had always seemed in the past, the band stuck to a formula of following up a new tune with one of their hits. Not on this tour.

When the night was done, the die-hard Bon Jovi fans were treated to most of their favorite songs, and a healthy dose of their favorite rock star commanding the stage as he's done now for nearly four decades, albeit with a diminished vocal range that was more evident at this show than any other Bon Jovi show I've seen.

Is this the best Bon Jovi has ever been? Not by a long shot. But they're still a step above a lot of what else is out there today.

St. Paul Setlist:

  • This House Is Not for Sale
  • Knockout
  • You Give Love a Bad Name
  • Lost Highway
  • Whole Lot of Leavinʼ
  • Roller Coaster
  • We Werenʼt Born to Follow
  • Iʼll Sleep When Iʼm Dead
  • We Got It Goinʼ On
  • Who Says You Canʼt Go Home
  • Itʼs My Life
  • We Donʼt Run
  • God Bless This Mess
  • Scars on This Guitar
  • New Yearʼs Day
  • Lay Your Hands on Me
  • Born to Be My Baby
  • Have a Nice Day
  • Bad Medicine
  • Keep the Faith

Encore:

  • Blood on Blood
  • Wanted Dead or Alive
  • Livin' on a Prayer

A couple of side notes:

Before launching into 'Lay Your Hands on Me', Jon Bon Jovi remembered Minnesota's-own Prince (who passed away last April), by reciting the famous opening line ("Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life")
from the #1 song 'Let's Go Crazy'. A nice touch.

As for references to Sambora (who, depending on who you believe, either quit or was kicked out of the band in 2013), there were two:

  • Jon Bon Jovi mentioned him by name when referencing the song 'It's My Life', recalling how the guitarist wondered who the Frankie in the song's lyrics was (that would be another of New Jersey's favorite sons, Frank Sinatra).
  • Later, when introducing Sambora's replacement, Phil X, Jon Bon Jovi told the crowd how Phil dropped everything to join the band's 2013 Because We Can tour at the last minute and "never looked back". Bon Jovi followed that with an obvious dig at Sambora, proclaiming, "We're never going to look back either". Ouch!

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