Who says you can’t go home? Bon Jovi can and did on Saturday with at a live listening party for over 1,500 fans who won the chance to hear the band’s new album, This House is Not for Sale, at an intimate show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.
“Happy Saturday night,” Jon Bon Jovi said to the crowd, who were handed playbill’s that included the lyrics to the record as a primer for the evening. “Welcome to the debut of This House is Not for Sale. It’s been three long years. 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.”
Indeed, the New Jersey band has weathered quite a few storms in that time, with the departure of guitarist Richie Sambora in 2013 and a well-documented dispute with Island/Universal Music Group. Bon Jovi -- who will be honored at Billboard's Legend of Live at the 13th Annual Billboard Touring Conference and Awards this November -- is the longest tenured artist in the history of Mercury Records, and the singer held nothing back from the audience as he revealed the turmoil the group faced during the group's “five seconds” without a label home.
“The legacy mattered and the future was bright,” he said. “There was no way I was going to walk away from that.”
With that drama happily behind the artist (everything was settled with a new deal inked earlier this year) Bon Jovi opened up his soul on record and in the live setting with a fascinating display of honesty and an inside look into what inspired the lyrics, music and story behind This House is Not for Sale. Bon Jovi was refreshingly candid telling stories about each song, eager to share the process in an evening with “friends and family” gathered in the theater.
“It's a record about integrity, about rebirth, about life, love, loss and all the sweat that goes between," the 54-year old singer said. "We have a lot to say and not a fucking thing to prove."
Those expecting a rehash of Slippery When Wet or even New Jersey will be disappointed.
“It you think I’m going to keep re-writing “You Give Love a Bad Name,” sorry folks, that book’s gone,” he said.
With that, the band presented the album almost in its entirety in front of an audience for the very first time -- with a slight detour performing bonus tracks towards the end of the set.
Among veteran band members Tico Torres on drums and David Bryan on keyboards, the group was rounded out by bassist Hugh McDonald, new guitarist Phil X (who filled in for Sambora after he departed The Circle tour), percussionist Everett Bradley and John Shanks, who has served as producer for every Bon Jovi record since 2005's Have a Nice Day.
“He finds the truth in everything we do,” Bon Jovi said of Shanks.
The group opened with single and lead-off track, “This House is Not for Sale,” a kicking the door open anthem declaring that “these four wall have got a story to tell.” The “four walls,” he explained, represent the band and 33 years of its musical legacy. As the song concluded-with Torres adding a thunderous backbeat and Phil X shredding the solo—Bon Jovi flashed his infamous smile, clearly relieved to pass that initiation and encouraged by the crowd’s warm reception.
With that, the band presented the second track, “Living with the Ghost,” a song he said came to him out of a dream, as he recited from memory the lyrics “I saw a man wash his feet in the church holy water/he worked up to his knees from his arms to his neck/ He said I’m over my head/ He was crying, trying to get some relief” and the revelation: “That man was me.” The song -- an assurance that the group is moving forward on “open seas” into the future -- set the table for the defiant new single, “Knockout," which Bon Jovi called a “chip on your shoulder” anthem. The third track on the album is destined to come alive when the band plays bigger arenas. In the Basie, the song blew up to the rafters, bringing the crowd to its feet.
“Labor of Love” plays out like a love letter to anyone -- be it a lover or a loyal fan base. With a guitar line that recalls a spaghetti western, the song breathes long enough to provide a nice dramatic live moment as the crowd responded to a slight pause after the line, “I want to die in your arms hearing you say my name” with resounding screams.
Taking stock of the audience, Bon Jovi cracked a joke about fans recording the shows with their iPhones for inevitable uploads to YouTube, encouraging people to go right ahead.
“We’re sounding great,” he laughed.
He offered more insight into the next song, “Born Again Tomorrow,” as it asks the listener if you are a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” person and that he is happy with his own choices. “Rollercoaster,” an up-tempo song, completes the first six songs, with a chorus that stands out and could be a contender for a radio single.
“New Years Day,” he explained, is not about a “date on the calendar,” but about new beginnings. It is also the first track, he said, where he knew the record was a true “band” effort, as previous records were recorded separately. The song, he said, was inspired by Sting’s musical, The Last Ship, and a nod to the art of creating music for a Broadway show, offering keyboardist Bryan up as an example for his Tony winning work for the play Memphis.
“The Devil’s in the Temple” is a direct shot at the “business of music” and how it poisoned the “house of love” -- his label home of Mercury Records. The guitar line beautifully sets up the attack before Bon Jovi spits out the words, “This was a church/ A house full of prayer/ It ‘aint that now.” Of course, he said, everything worked out, but he still got to record the song in the same studio he began his career as the “gopher" -- Avatar Records (formerly the Power Station).
Dialing it down a bit, Bon Jovi delivered one of the best tracks on the record -- “Scars on This Guitar.” Framing the Nashville-flavored song with an introduction of how he used to sit in awe watching Mink Deville play in Asbury Park (and a very sweet moment singing Deville’s song “Storybook Love” from the film, The Princess Bride), the song filters 33 years of road life through the “cracks” of an instrument that “offers no forgiveness, ‘cause she likes to make it hurt.” It is a captivating piece of music, as the band -- particularly Bryan on piano -- reveled in the quieter moments.
Coming into the home stretch, Bon Jovi once again paid tribute to the band’s journey with “God Bless This Mess," saying, “we’re happier than we’ve ever been," and the song, “Reunion,” giving a note to Rutgers' graduating class of 2017 noting the song is perfect for graduation videos or award ceremonies. From there, Bon Jovi was sidelined into presenting three bonus tracks -- “Real Love,” “We Don’t Run” (from the fan album, Burning Bridges -- and another searing attack on the label) and “All Hail the King,” a song celebrating the generous spirit of the community and the mission of the singer’s Soul Kitchen restaurant.
Concluding the presentation of the album with the song “Come On Up to Our House” -- which he called the album’s “bookend” -- the singer said he knew he was done writing the album when he realized the songs that began with an “I” began ending with a “we.”
“All are welcome at our table,” he sang. “You can never stay too long.”
The band did stick around a tad longer, however, taping the song “This House is Not for Sale” for an upcoming appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America and a brief dip into the past with “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” and “Bad Medicine.”
The band will continue its short promotional tour at the London Palladium on Oct. 10 and at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, on Oct. 17.
The group will also give their first-ever Bon Jovi on Broadway performance at the Barrymore Theatre Oct. 20, which will be live-streamed via TIDAL. Following the inaugural show TIDAL members worldwide can access exclusive behind the scenes content and footage from the intimate tour.
This House is Not for Sale will be released Nov. 4.