Bon Jovi - Live At Madison Square Garden DVD
For everything written about Bon Jovi, one particular incessantly is disregarded; their music. The band has never been a critic's darling and they have taken their fair shot of abuse from the press (at time from this writer as well). An overriding analysis of their music tends to take a back seat, which is a shame considering the impact their music has made over the last quarter of a century. Their latest DVD release, Live At Madison Square Garden was filmed over two nights at the world's most famous arena in July 2008 and it captures Bon Jovi at the peak of their powers. I'm sure there were better shows on the tour and that the band has performed some of these songs better on previous tours, but as a standalone document of their prowess on the concert stage, it nails it. After not releasing a concert DVD for the better part of a decade this was an unattainable endeavor. The last three tours went without a proper live document and even though there have been DVD's (one featuring the songs of This Left Feels Right and the complete Lost Highway record) this is only the band's third live document to be released of a proper show. In short, the only previous Bon Jovi releases have been in European stadiums and soundstages. The truth is that the band is at their best within the walls of an arena. The blistering power from the stage can be felt by everyone, the theatrics doesn't consume the band and the open stage (crowd on all sides) wraps itself around the band making for an intimate viewing experience where the band and their fans are one.
Despite a production budget in the millions, the most startling aspect of the DVD is how much the viewer doesn't even notice all of the bells and whistles. The screens are integral to the performance for those in far reaching seats but the video focuses on the band, their musical talent and their catalog. I hope the band takes a cue from this and follows it on further tours. The songs and performances go further than anyone will ever admit and everything else is superfluous as long as the songs accompany them for the ride. Jon's brother, Anthony M. Bongiovi directed the film (along with Brian Lockwood). This is a very critical element that needs to be highlighted. Bongiovi got his start capturing some fan club/holiday shows in the mid-1990's and to watch his evolution over the last fifteen years is astonishing. His talent has grown 100-fold in this time. It's the equivalent of listening to "The Laughing Gnome" by David Bowie from 1967 and then listening to "'Heroes'" a decade later, the evolution is that steep. He proves himself to be more than the brother of someone famous but an accomplished video and concert director in his own right. The film jumps off your television screen at you, while being neither jarring nor paroxysmal. The angles, breadth of panning and overall execution are faultless. He allows the moment to stand still before capturing the next element allowing us to breathe in the music, performance and image on screen. In a day and age with constant edits and quick moves of the camera, the home viewer becomes dizzy and ultimately disillusioned. None of that is here. Another high spot is both the stereo and 5.1 mixes by Obie O'Brien. The band's longtime engineer, the music on both mixes is evocative while being elliptically boisterous. There are six-string smack downs, rolling bass lines, unadorned organ and piano fills and snare-drums which allows the song to take flight and give them their arena rock muscle. Both mixes are equally invigorating with the 5.1 mix allowing the viewer/listener to relish the individual instrumentation of the band. The sound separation is stunning and makes you appreciate how a handful of instruments can converge to create such enticing melodic sounds. As far as live DVD's go, it's a benchmark others should try to emulate.
The set list for the DVD has twenty full and complete songs. It's not so much a representation of the Lost Highway tour as it is an extensive look back at their overall catalog. No worries, the larger-than-life hits are here ("It's My Life", "Wanted Dead Or Alive") as are the anthems of longing ("In These Arms", "(You Want To) Make A Memory" and "Always") and there's even a little extra room for the deep cuts like the epic "Dry County", not a staple by any means in the last decade and yet it's delivered with impassioned concentration. There's the unfaltering "Living In Sin", which has rarely been performed in the last two decades but is a welcomed addition to the DVD. "Lost Highway" is clamorous draped by Lorenza Ponce's violin, who supplemented the Bon Jovi sound more than anyone gives her credit for on the 2007-2008 tour. It wasn't until we heard these same songs on the current tour to appreciate what an extraordinary addition she was to not just the stage but to their overall sound, further confirmed on the bleeding "Whole Lot of Leavin'". "Born To Me My Baby" and "Blaze of Glory" both feature the thunderous pummeling of Tico Torres on the drums. David Bryan's piano takes the listener to a fragile place on "Always" while Sambora gets to flex his inner soul on bluesy sway on "I'll Be There For You" which instills the song with soulful spine. The sing-a-long seduction validates not just Bon Jovi's catalog but Sambora's artistry on his own other than the guitar player in Bon Jovi. "Keep the Faith" further solidifies itself as a tour de force performance finding the band firing on all cylinders showing everyone why they have continued to thrive and Jon Bon Jovi as the front man is in superb form in voice and body throughout. Watch him trek from in the crowd during "Blood on Blood" back to the stage, few a generation younger can do this as well. It is the songs, the blood, the sweat and exemplary performances that make this shine through and through. Individually the members of Bon Jovi aren't heralded as musical whiz kids like the members of the Who, but as a combined team, on their best nights, they're as good as anyone on the planet. "Raise Your Hands" is contagious as the sold-out Garden crowd become a part of the song with their animated arm waving participation. The DVD has been released in the US as a Wal-Mart exclusive (Blu-Ray can be bought on Amazon.com and other retailers) and at a mere $10 for the DVD, this is a steal.
The only stumbling block is the show is a mere 20-songs. To their credit, "Bad Medicine" rolls over the credits and three bonus songs ("You Give Love A Bad Name", "Runaway" and "Bed of Roses") are in the supplements taking the song total to 24-songs. However, instead of retreading familiar ground, they left their war horses for the bonus section and it's where they belong. While a complete show would be more esteemed, as a one-disc compilation of their greatest hits, it hits the target dead on. Yeah, I'd like to complain of the songs that were performed that aren't here or the fact the band has yet to release a full and complete live show from their nearly three decade career, but that would be overshadowing the positive aspects of this release. When you see the band flex their virtuosic talents on "Dry County", you begin to see and appreciate a deeper level of understanding to their larger body of work. They may be best known for that infectious 3-minute power-rock-pop song on the FM dial, but there's enough on Live At Madison Square Garden to go beyond those hits. What we are treated to is seven musicians (including the always marvelous Hugh McDonald on bass, violinist Lorenza Ponce and guitarist Bobby Bandiera) who exude pure unadulterated joy. Live At Madison Square Garden is the second best release from the band over the last decade, behind their 2004 box set, 100,000,000 Million Fans Can't Be Wrong. When everything falls into place at a Bon Jovi concert it is an exuberant celebration reaffirming the simplistic joys and pleasures of life and Live At Madison Square Garden exemplifies this better than any live document of their career to date.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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Bon Jovi - Live At Madison Square Garden DVD