During Bon Jovi’s garage-rock encore of the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” Friday night, Jon Bon Jovi suddenly jumped away from his microphone and bent over, clutching his left leg in pain. The singer spent the next two minutes using the mike stand to prop himself up, then limped across the stage while more than 60,000 fans cheered him on. “I must have blown my calf muscle out,” he said. “I’m old, but I’m still good looking.”
The damage turned out to be serious enough for the band to issue a statement the next day. Jovi tore his calf muscle, but the injury will not affect future dates of their massive The Circle world tour, which will hit about 30 countries. Friday’s show was the fourth of Bon Jovi’s hometown gigs at New Jersey’s New Meadowlands Stadium (the band christened the venue in May), and the first featuring the band’s cigar-chomping, rabble-rousing new tourmate: Kid Rock.
The Detroit badass worked the stage like a seasoned pro in his black fedora, making frequent trips to the center of the crowd on the catwalk during his one-hour opening set. Backed by his longtime Twisted Brown Trucker Band, Rock reveled in stadium bliss, mixing his biggest rockers with guilty-pleasure covers, and even taking a shot at LeBron James, saying, “We know what it’s like to play for your hometown crowd — unlike certain basketball players.” His Aerosmith-esque rocker “Lowlife (Living the Highlife)” sounded at right at home alongside a cover the Georgia Satellites’ Eighties boogie “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” His backup singers gave extra muscle to a joyous take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
During “My Name Is Rock,” the singer made the rounds onstage, playing almost every instrument. He also took a moment to show off his flashy DJ skills, manipulating the turntables with his elbows and flipping the bird while a stagehand poured him a massive shot of Jim Beam and lit his stogie. He sat down at the piano for a cover of Jamey Johnson’s “You Should Have Seen it in Color,” and called the country hit “one of the best songs written in the last 10 years.” He teased the crowd with a piano ballad version of “Cowboy” but then hopped up, ran onto the catwalk and kicked into the rap-rock staple. After the three-chord Lynyrd Skynyrd/Warren Zevon mashup “All Summer Long,” Rock told the crowd, “This ain’t no Britney Spears bullshit.”
Bon Jovi were equally interested in reviving the idea of the real arena rock concert. Like the Stones’ 1999 No Security tour, their set began with slow-motion footage of the four bandmembers strutting down a dingy corridor. Late in the show, they performed stripped-down hits acoustically on a catwalk at the tip of the crowd, like Coldplay did on their most recent Viva la Vida dates.
The band kicked off with the Slippery When Wet rocker “Raise Your Hands” while Bon Jovi revved up the crowd with fist pumps in an open leather shirt. In the early part of the set, the band alternated between classic hits and new material. “We Weren’t Born to Follow” featured massive video-screen images of inspirational figures like Barack Obama, Elvis Presley and Lance Armstrong.
Bon Jovi gave multiple shout-outs to Jersey, with plenty of quotes straight out of Springsteen’s playbook: “This is New Jersey on a summer night. This is your house,” he shouted. He also recalled driving down the Jersey highway en route to the gig: “I keep thinking — that’s home. That’s where we’re goin’.” Richie Sambora attempted E Street style gospel in front of a stained glass church background on “Lay Your Hands on Me.”
“Is there a doctor in the house?” Bon Jovi asked somewhat presciently before launching into “Bad Medicine,” a contagious rocker off New Jersey. He introduced keyboard player David Bryan, a recent Tony Award winner for Memphis, and Bryan kicked into the opening chords of “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Kid Rock emerged in a flannel shirt and sunglasses, and boogied alongside Bon Jovi to the classic radio staple, flipping the bird as he sang the ling, “Won’t go to hear them play a tango.” (Watch video of the collaboration below.)
One of the band’s nods to classic stadium rock was less successful — a puzzling cover of the Who’s “Squeezebox” featuring Sambora on double-neck acoustic guitar — but their frontman’s superhuman endurance was pure rock & roll wizardry. Returning after snapping his calf muscle, Bon Jovi powered through the song he knew fans couldn’t leave without hearing, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Standing mostly still center stage, he fought through his pain as YouTube-style footage of die-hards dancing in their bedrooms rolled on the video screens and his hometown faithful carried him to the finish line.