POP MUSIC REVIEW : Eager-to-Please Bon Jovi Woos Forum Audience

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jon Bon Jovi knows how to work a room.

On Friday at the Forum, the singer regularly ventured out onto platforms jutting into the audience on both ends of the stage, picked a loge or arena section, pointed his finger like a gun, cocked his thumb, smiled. Even the fans behind the stage got plenty of individual quality time. Before the evening ended Bon Jovi had probably pointed, winked or gestured to within five rows or so of every patron in the in-the-round house. He could hardly have been more lovingly attentive if he had thanked us all personally by name as we filed out.

It never came off as desperate, either. This was enthusiastic salesmanship at its finest and most seductively winning. If he had taken lessons from Bon Jovi, who knows, Willie Loman might still be alive. This guy could even sell out Glengarry Glen Ross.

There was a quid pro quo for all this friendliness, though.

"I want you to call these rotten radio stations here," Bon Jovi announced before an encore rendition of his band's upcoming single, "and tell 'em I may not be from Seattle, but I can still kick some ass!"

So, it's hunger pangs, then, and not just the usual addiction to adoration fueling the band's eagerness about now, what with much of the young hard-rock contingent possibly defecting from the Metal Lite district of Jersey to the grungy Great Northwest.

Guys with hair over their faces who look as if they couldn't care less whether the crowd digs it or not are suddenly selling more records and getting more radio play than the audience-friendly stuff Bon Jovi represents. Could it be the beginning of the end of a mutual-lovefest show-biz tradition?

But if what the band represents is being slowly supplanted in young rockers' consciousness--the replacement of high hokum by a flannel haze--it was still in high style at the Forum.

Unlike all his personalized pointing, Jon Bon Jovi's allusions to the latest album not doing as well as expected probably went over the heads of most of the nearly full house, which did nonetheless get to enjoy the benefit of the singer's renewed eagerness to please.

While other hard-rockers have gotten more hard-core, Bon Jovi has dropped some of the bad-boy accouterments. The song formula remains largely unaltered, though, with nearly every tune building to an anthemic chorus. Favorites such as "Livin' on a Prayer" had the usual sing-along Hooks R Us appeal, while it was derivations from the formula that provided the weakest stretches, like the grueling ballad "Dry County."

Finally, though, you were left with Jon Bon Jovi's pure zest, which might wear down even the highbrow. He seems like the sort of guy who shouldn't necessarily know any better, and guilelessness in the service of salesmanship is still a thing to behold.

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