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Because they can: Bon Jovi thrills MTS Centre crowd

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In a moment, not even ten minutes in to the concert last night, it seemed the MTS Centre was rippling.

All the fans had raised their hands, you see: clear around the arena they shoved their arms up on the beat, and wiggled their fingers furiously. They raised them because it was the title of the song, and because Jon Bon Jovi told them to. Because he can. Because it’s a rock star’s privilege to stand in the middle of 15,500 people, pump his hips against the mic stand, and tell ‘em how it’s gonna be.

"I ain’t going to waste a lot of time," Bon Jovi said then, shouldering his guitar. "We’re going to take you on a rollercoaster ride from the beginning to the present day... so for the next two-and-a-half hours, strap yourselves in and let me drive."

Well, it’s not like anyone else had the keys. Guitarist Richie Sambora dropped out of the Because We Can tour earlier this week, "personal reasons" they said, which showbiz media buzzed could be a spat over money, or maybe substance trouble again. Sambora Tweeted he was fine.

At any rate, the show went on without him — Bon Jovi, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan at the helm. Phil Xenidis took over on first axe, although — a fan lamented last night — the harmonies just weren’t the same without Richie around.

At least there was a whole lot of sound to flesh them out: from his place at the heart of a stage-in-the-round, Bon Jovi held court on three hours of straightforward rock’n’roll. There weren’t a lot of bells, and even fewer whistles — at a few points, columns descended to form video screens behind the open stage. Once, they turned into stepping-stones for Bon Jovi to gyrate for fans on the arena’s south end, who mostly only saw his back or else an obstructed view.

There were a handful of songs off of the brand-new Bon Jovi album, What About Now, but not many. We all knew why we were there: not just to make a memory, but to dust off the ones we once carefully folded, and were forced by life to leave behind.

Jon Bon Jovi knows this too. He is a 51-year-old man in tight black jeans and swept-back follicular flow, still delighting millions by playing decades-old rock’n’roll; he played with this in subtle winks. "This is one I wrote a long time ago, off a record called Keep The Faith," he said, standing at the apex of a narrow horseshoe catwalk. "It’s called Bed of Roses."

And then he was bending down, hands plunging towards his fans, they screamed and threw their arms around each other and sang so loud. How many times has he done this? It doesn’t matter, it’s not about the man on stage, really. It’s about every swaying body and blissed-out face in that crowd.

And so, for another hour yet, he brought them back home: he kicked out We Weren’t Born To Follow, he rocked a little Rolling Stones. The main set closed off with Bad Medicine, and the thunderous cheers shook the place all over. In the rocking encore, Bon Jovi made a quiet nod to Sambora’s absence, thanking the crowd for their "patience."

"We’re very grateful for that," he said, and then the band just lit the place up: something about a steel horse, a cowboy, and being wanted dead or alive.

New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi hit town Friday night as part of their 'Because We Can' tour in support of their latest record.


Updated on Friday, April 5, 2013 at 10:50 PM CDT: adds poll question, slideshow.

12:16 AM: corrects guitar player's name.

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