Three years ago, Jon Bon Jovi played the first rock concert at London’s O2 Arena. Last night, the first of a 12-show residency, the U.S. star returned to flash a smile, kiss some girls and get down to 2 1/2 hours of stadium-sized anthems and blue-collar rocking.
Since June 2007, the O2 Arena has become one of the world’s leading rock venues. Bon Jovi’s commercial success stretches over 25 years, with more than 120 million albums sold -- 28 million of them being 1986’s “Slippery When Wet.”
Right from the start, Bon Jovi’s band works to deliver. “Blood On Blood” sets the pace. It launches with a squeal from the guitar of Richie Sambora, who wears a flash silver jacket. Sambora keeps the hair-metal flame alive with virtuoso guitar work that never lets fireworks usurp good old-fashioned melody.
The rhythm section gets the rock-blues chugging. David Bryan, his corkscrew curls bobbing with excitement, throws in flashes of synthesizer.
The main event, though, is the singer. With his matinee-idol cheekbones and blue-eyed gaze, the all-American hero, 48, is born to perform. His hair is salon perfect while his super-white smile is the most dazzling thing on the O2’s stage.
He moves into the audience to give a chaste kiss on the cheek to some female fans (and one excited guy). He also sings, powering hard-rock and pop-rock anthems.
“When We Were Beautiful” packs a special punch. “Work for the Working Man” comes with some social-realism-styled graphics. Unlike most arena gigs, Bon Jovi’s stage has no props or pyrotechnics. The big screens are used, for most of the show, only to highlight close-up footage from onstage.
There are some dud moments. A couple of songs feel like Eagles cast-offs puffed up in metal trappings. A cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is over-emoted and self-reverential.
The wholesomeness of it all -- clean melodies, relentless air-punching and vacuous sing-a-longs -- make you yearn for a bit of rock filth or Bruce Springsteen grit.
It was nothing that Bon Jovi’s winning smile, and an encore blast through “Living on a Prayer” couldn’t fix.
After last night’s show, Bon Jovi will be welcomed back to the O2 for years to come.
The O2, Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX. Information: +44-208-463-2000, http://www.bonjovi.com. The O2 shows last through June 26 and the tour continues in the U.S. after that.
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)