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Bon Jovi brings Jersey pride to L.A.

Special to The Times

Friday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, an aging rocker from small-town New Jersey took the stage and sang for more than two hours about the necessity of faith, the endurance of romance and the modest majesty of small-town New Jersey.

Bruce Springsteen, perhaps?

Nope. Springsteen isn’t scheduled to play the Honda Center until tonight.

Friday, the rocker was Jon Bon Jovi, playing the first of three Southland shows with the 25-year-old band that bears his name. (Bon Jovi will play Staples Center Wednesday.)

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There are differences, of course, between the Boss and Bon Jovi: It’s unlikely, for starters, that Springsteen would ever write a song called “We Got It Going On,” as Bon Jovi did for its latest album, last year’s “Lost Highway.” “Is there anybody out there looking for a party?” Jon Bon Jovi asks in the tune. “Shake your moneymaker, baby, smoke it if you got it.”

And though Springsteen certainly has sung about the pleasures of sex (whether or not it’s accompanied by romance), it’s hard to imagine him singing about it, as Bon Jovi did during “Bad Medicine,” in front of four enormous video screens on gyrating-babe duty.

Still, at the Honda Center the similarities were more evident than the differences. As demonstrated on the country-inflected “Lost Highway,” Bon Jovi’s sound has deepened and warmed since the band’s chrome-and-aerosol pop-metal days. On Friday, Richie Sambora, clad in what might best be described as a purple-snakeskin nightgown, played as many acoustic guitars as electric ones, and the group was joined by a violinist who made a credible claim on being called a fiddler instead.

At one point, the frontman and the guitarist sang three songs from a makeshift stage in the middle of the arena’s floor; cellphone-camera flashes notwithstanding, the moment had some “Nebraska” to it.

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Throughout the show, Bon Jovi strained to connect its crowd-pleasing hits to music taken more seriously by the rock establishment. The band threw a bit of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” into the middle of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” and before it played “Blaze of Glory,” Jon Bon Jovi’s solo hit from the “Young Guns II” soundtrack, the singer sang a few bars from “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Bon Jovi was joined for “Blaze of Glory” by Chris Daughtry, the “American Idol” runner-up whose band opened Friday’s concert with a set of meat-and-potatoes hard rock. (Daughtry has learned a few things from his mentors, as he beefed up his own “Home” with a verse from Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.”)

Yet Bon Jovi didn’t really need the Stones’ (or Springsteen’s) help -- it’s taken plenty seriously by its fans, whom Jon Bon Jovi thanked for sticking with the band as its fortunes went “up, down and up again.” For an encore, the frontman asked the crowd to “please rise for the playing of our national anthem.”

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” perhaps?

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Nope. That one doesn’t have a sweet Sambora solo. Instead, the band kicked out a thoroughly decent version of “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

Turns out these old guns still shoot pretty straight.


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