Jon Bon Jovi has a lot of say but nothing to prove.That’s the message, expletive deleted, from a preview performance of his band’s vibrant upcoming album, “This House is Not for Sale,” Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
The evening was entertaining on multiple levels. First, it was the live debut of 14 tracks from the album with the lead single, “This House is Not for Sale,” performed twice. The second time was for an upcoming appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Bon Jovi also talked about many of the tracks on the album, due Oct. 21, their origins and inspirations.
“It’s good to be back, it’s been three long years,” said Bon Jovi, wearing a casual black dress shirt with black pants. “There’s been a lot going on in my life but I hope your life has not been as tumultuous. But it’s pretty good these days. This is a record about our integrity. This is a record about our rebirth, this is a record about life, love, loss and all the sweat that went in between.”
What happened in the past three years? A departure from and a return to the band’s longtime record label, Island/Universal Music Group, and the much publicized departure of long-time guitarist Richie Sambora in mid-tour in 2013.
“The legacy mattered and the future was bright,” Bon Jovi said. “There was no way I was going to walk away from that.”
Guitarist Phil Xenidis stepped in and he was on stage with the band at the Basie. Also, producer John Shanks was on second guitar, a role filled most recently by the Jersey Shore’s Matt O’Ree, and before that Bobby Bandiera. Everett Bradley, who toured with the E Street Band on the band’s “Wrecking Ball” tour, was on percussion and backing vocals at the Basie.
As usual, David Bryan was on keyboards, Tico Torres on drums and Hugh McDonald on bass. Bryan and Xenidis joined O’Ree on stage at Jamians down the street from the Basie after the show.
So what is the future like for Bon Jovi? Judging by the songs, it’s forceful, righteous and rocking. “House” is prime arena rock and “Rollercoaster” positively bursts with energy. “Born Again Tomorrow” had a screaming solo from Xenidis. “New Year’s Day,” with a Bon Jovi tremolo on vocals, suggests later period Bowie and “The Devil’s in the Temple” is a punky fist pumper, thanks to Xenidis’ crunchy chords.
One of the most appealing songs was the Stones in Memphis-influenced “Scars on my Guitar,” which featured a nice interplay between Bryan on electric piano and Bon Jovi on vocals. Much of “House” recalls the Bon Jovi sound of the past decade or so, a big, firm-footed morally unambiguous music. The new music, written without Sambora, suggests that for the last several years the creative nexus of the band has been Bon Jovi and Shanks, not Bon Jovi and Sambora. It’s meant to uplift and inspire in a world that often misdirects and demeans.
The show at the Basie is part of four album-preview concerts -- also Oct. 10 at the Palladium in London; Oct. 17 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto and Oct. 20 at the Barrymore Theatre on Broadway -- presented by the music steaming service Tidal as part of its Tidal X program.
What also came through at the Basie is Bon Jovi as the young music geek. He was a kid from Sayreville who loved going to Sam Goody and buying vinyl records. He spoke of purchasing a new record as a transcendent experience. He dreamed of being a rock star and spoke of “being a 16-year old kid knocking on a deejay’s window.”
Bon Jovi got the gold ring. Saturday, he and the band polished it up and it still shines.