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Pop Music Review : There's More To Rock Than Bon Jovi's Ritual

January 19, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic

SAN DIEGO — Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" has moved ahead of Bruce Springsteen's live, five-record set as the nation's best-selling album. But that's not the only thing I've got against the quintet.

Now that's a joke.

But this isn't: Bon Jovi and its East Coast sidekicks, Cinderella, are typical of flashy, hollow hard-rock bands that delude thousands of young fans each night into thinking they are really experiencing rock 'n' roll.

We're not talking criminal offenses here. Neither of these East Coast bands even specializes in the crude 'n' rude, plunder 'n' rampage rock associated with hard-core heavy metal outfits.

Still, it is disheartening to see so many fans go away from a show thinking they have sampled the power of rock when they are have merely gone through the rituals of rock.

And make no mistake about it, the near-capacity crowd Friday night at the Sports Arena here certainly got to take part in the rituals: pay $15 each for tickets, gobble up T-shirts or sweat shirts ($16 or $27 respectively), strut around in their sexiest concert duds (lots of white lace stockings and revealing blouses for the gals; torn jeans and tight T-shirts for the guys) and yell their heads off in the appropriate places.

Yet, the most prized rock, from Presley to U2, filled fans with the confidence and imagination to question things. There is an inspiring sense of individuality about these artists that stimulates the search for your own identity. Seeing someone make a unique statement on stage also reaffirms the thought that we can all make a difference.

When artists like Bon Jovi and Cinderella simply recycle what has been proven time and again to work commercially, it invites audiences to just accept the status quo. There's no invitation to dream about what could be . . . or what should be. The message is one of complacency: This is all there is.

This doesn't mean Friday's audience wasn't excited. Bands use the same devices over the years because they work, and they were in abundance at the Sports Arena: songs like "Let It Rock" and "Raise Your Hands" . . . fireworks . . . contests to see which half of the audience can scream the loudest . . . shrieking lead vocals . . . exaggerated wardrobes that make the musicians look as ridiculous as Walter Matthau in the film "Pirates."

Bon Jovi's popularity is based on its curious blend of the melodic, high-energy rock of the pre-Sammy Hagar Van Halen ("You Give Love a Bad Name" is catchy pop) and a hint of Springsteen sensitivity.

Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi's quote in the group's press bio sounds like something straight from old party animal David Lee (Roth) himself: "We're taking a year-round block party all over the world . . . to places hot and cold, dry and wet . . . and we're happier than hell to be doin' it." And, unfortunately, the attempts at Springsteen--"Silent Night," "Wild in the Streets"--lack the sufficient insight and cinematic detail.

Bon Jovi, the singer, does exhibit a friendly, story-telling manner on stage and at least one interesting gimmick. Mid-way through the show, he used a rope from the ceiling to swing over the heads of the audience to a platform near the rear of the arena so that he could sing a song for those in the rear seats.

Cinderella, the glam/metal quartet that opened the show, leans more toward a raunchy, head-banging style of hard-rock than Bon Jovi, but lead singer Tom Keifer's only hint of showmanship involved another concert cliche: constant references to the city where the show is being held. "Hey, San Diego" . . . "Wow, San Diego" . . . "Bow wow, San Diego."

As the tour continues tonight at the Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino and Wednesday night at the Long Beach Arena, the only thing likely to change is the name of the city. "Hey, San Bernardino" . . . "Love ya, Long Beach!"

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