Bon Jovi: high energy & nostalgia at the Meadowlands

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Near the end of the high energy concert special “Bon Jovi — The Circle Tour: Live from New Jersey” frontman Jon Bon Jovi tells a full house at the new Meadowlands Stadium how much the old stadium meant to him as an artist and as a member of the audience.

The original stadium was a sports venue that eventually turned into one of the country’s biggest grossing sites for everyone from U2 to Bruce Springsteen.

Backed by the marketing power of major record labels and pop music radio stations, the biggest acts in the 1980s and 1990s could sell out the vast arena in a matter of minutes.

Watching “The Circle Tour” I couldn’t shake the question of whether or not there will be a market for rock shows on this scale in just a few years.

The audience has been so fragmented and scattered in recent years that even the biggest acts are thrilled if they can fill Madison Square Garden for a single night. Hell, most of them would be happy to sell out Radio City Music Hall.

It’s not coincidental that the few acts that still play the sports arena circuit — The Rolling Stones, U2, Bruce Springsteen — have been around for a long time and rose to power under the aegis of the old-school music industry/rock radio consortium. None of these acts are the recording powerhouses they once were — nobody is — but they have huge and loyal (and nostalgic) fan bases who will turn out for a big live show.

Now that contemporary acts are working in smaller venues, they’re not developing the unique out-sized showmanship and musicianship that is necessary to rouse a mammoth crowd, qualities that Jon Bon Jovi and his bandmates have in abundance, judging by the special that debuts today on the EPIX channel as well as EPIX On Demand and on EpixHD.com.

I’ve never been a big Bon Jovi fan — they’ve always seemed to me like Springsteen without the social awareness — but the Meadowlands show is a model of pacing and arena theatrics that augment the performance without dwarfing it.

The band plays in front of some sort of giant Jumbotron screen that flashes with epic mood lighting as well as live pictures of the performers (for the folks in the cheap seats).

The camerawork is excellent, and the editor has wisely kept the hysterical crowd footage to a minimum. The mixing of material shot at all three of the sold-out shows last May is also handled deftly.

The band does a tight 90-minute set — containing nearly all of the big hits — a powerful encore, and then calls it a night.

Although I’ve never thought that any artists are seen at their best in this over-sized format, it is thrilling to witness the energy exchange between a hot band and tens of thousands of fans. And now, there is a strong aura of nostalgia surrounding a style of performance that is quickly vanishing from pop culture.

Joe Meyers

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