Around the turn of the millennium, I started getting massively into a genre of music that I would kindly describe as white American males, singing sincere songs really well, and playing instruments brilliantly. Unfortunately, the wider world has given it the much less kind moniker of ‘wuss rock’. While that’s clearly intended to be insulting, it actually describes my taste in music around this time pretty accurately, so I’ll let it stick for now.
My gateway to the world of Train, Lifehouse, Vertical Horizon et al was Matchbox Twenty, and their second album Mad Season, which I bought and played endlessly after catching the first single – “Bent” – on VH1. I then moved on to their earlier work, and finally to the other bands through their touring with Matchbox Twenty, or generally being associated with them online.
It struck me as odd that these groups could be so huge in the USA – number one albums, huge sold out arena tours – while achieving nothing in this country. Wasn’t it usually the other way around? It seemed that, in America, bands could be successful through the simple act of being really talented and working exceedingly hard, but in the UK, this type of music just got branded as bland, unless they had something unusual or weird about them – an ‘X-factor’ if you will.
In Matchbox Twenty’s case, it didn’t help their cause that “Bent” featured the line “Can you help me? I’m bent!”, which meant completely different things on either side of the pond. While it notched up the band’s first number one single over there, it raised little more than unfortunate sniggers over here. It was a shame, as it’s a great song.
Unsurprisingly, with so little commercial success, these bands didn’t seem overly keen to tour the UK. So I was pleasantly surprised when Matchbox Twenty announced a UK tour in 2001, although I was astonished to see they were planning on playing huge venues such as the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Were they insane? I was a big fan, but I could count on one hand the people I knew who had even heard of them. Surely this was asking for embarrassment?!
With great relief, I learned from the Millennium Stadium’s own website that Matchbox Twenty were just the support act. I’m not sure why they chose to promote the tour without mentioning the headliners, but suffice to say I was very pleased that I would now get to kill two rock ‘n’ roll birds with one stone – seeing Matchbox Twenty, and seeing one of the all time great stadium rock acts: Bon Jovi.
Having not lived in a musical cave my whole life, I was of course massively aware of Bon Jovi’s music, and I was a big fan of their huge hits such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” (who isn’t? Oh yes you are! Stop pretending!). But it was their more recent releases that had really turned me on to the band, from the Keep the Faith and These Days albums showcasing a more mature rock sound, to the Crush album proving they could still churn out colossal hits as the millennium rolled around. And in the middle of these, their greatest hits collection, Cross Road, had become an essential purchase for any rock fan in the mid-nineties.
Their three night stand at Wembley Stadium in 1995 had been a giant event, even for those not fortunate enough to attend. Try as I might, I hadn’t been able to win tickets on Virgin Radio’s many competitions, but I did stay up to listen live to (and record) the one night they had broadcast. That show had firmly planted Bon Jovi on my list of bands that I simply had to see.
Two things stood out to me and told me they would be incredible live. One, they covered “Rockin’ all over the World”, which would’ve made the show for me if I had been there, and two, they started with “Livin’ on a Prayer”, and went straight into “You Give Love a Bad Name”! That would be like Status Quo starting with “Rockin’ all over the World” and going straight into “Down Down”! Half the arena would have left by the 10 minute mark!
If a band can hit the big, big numbers early like that, then it tells you that a) they must have more big numbers in their back pocket, and b) they have huge confidence in their ability to keep the audience’s attention (see also, Bryan Adams, 2002). That can only come from experience and quality, so I knew a Bon Jovi show would be something to behold.
In 2001 they were doing their second UK stadium tour in two summers, having followed the Crush tour by releasing a live album called One Wild Night, which – confusingly – featured live tracks recorded over many wild nights, spanning the previous sixteen years. It also featured a rerecording of the title track (originally on Crush), but that one wasn’t live. So it wasn’t exactly a clear concept, but it was a rocking album nonetheless, and definitely hammered home that I should catch them live if I could.
So of course, with the added bonus of Matchbox Twenty on the bill, I ignored my supposed need to save all my money for university, and immediately snapped up tickets to the Cardiff show. In my usual desperation, I agreed to drive everyone there and back if some colleagues came with me, and I also completed my collection of Bon Jovi albums. There being no way I could’ve just borrowed the CDs I didn’t yet own to listen to before the show, of course.
The Millennium Stadium was the first real stadium I had been to for a rock concert, and it was an impressive beast, not least because they kept the roof closed, which meant it felt like a giant arena show, and didn’t suffer from an hour or so of daylight, like outdoor gigs often can.
Up first were Delirious, about whom I remember absolutely nothing, except that they were a Christian rock band. I wonder what they felt about touring with Matchbox Twenty who, as well as being awesome, featured lead singer Rob Thomas, AKA the most foul-mouthed mother f***er ever to walk the earth!
Yes that’s right, good old wuss rocker Rob Thomas spent every minute on stage that he wasn’t singing, dropping f-bombs like they were greased-up bars of soap, even though almost everything he said was positive:
“Ah f**k me man, you f**king guys! You f**king rock! Goddamnit, what a f**king crowd, I f**king love you!”
Now, I’m not against swearing. Gosh darn it I can spew curse words with the worst of them. But the frequency of it was so overwhelming, it added a comedy element to the group’s set, and it became my overarching memory of their performance, which is a shame.
Fortunately, Bon Jovi were not about to disappoint in any way. Firstly – as always seems to be the case with their tours – the set design was epic. The stage was laid around a giant, life size recreation of the top of the Empire State Building, as if we were all about to watch a show 400m in the air.
When it was time to come on, the screens showed them getting into the lift and making the ride all the way up, as the elevator-music-esque instrumental intro to “One Wild Night” played. Once they got to the ‘top’ of the lift, they exited onto the stage, completing the illusion that we were high above New York City, and played the song in its entirety.
You can’t make out the elevator music intro in this video, but you’ll get the gist.
Normally, opening with the title track of your new album would be minus points for predictability. But this was so good, and so ingenious, that I’m actually going to chalk this up as the new winner of ‘Best Opening to a Show’ yet. It was just that good.
From there on, everything they did was gold. There wasn’t a single moment that the crowd weren’t jumping, singing along or screaming. As expected, the band had a seemingly bottomless pit of massive hits and crowd favourites, and we were never more than a few minutes away from another “OH MY GOD, IT’S THIS ONE!” moment.
While my previous ‘stadium’ show experience with the Stereophonics had worked brilliantly as it had been one big party, celebrating the band’s success with a homecoming gig in a venue far outstripping their usual surroundings, this was a band perfectly at home in a giant bowl, and it was a masterful display of crowd control from Jon Bon Jovi, especially. Though I had known roughly what to expect from my Wembley Stadium radio experience, nothing could have prepared me for how a great stadium show can make each song, the venue and the band feel bigger, even if for them it’s just another show on the tour.
Much later (it was a great value performance), we headed back to the car, which was parked across the road in the train station car park. Three things stood out in my mind. Firstly, that had been an exceptional gig, but, secondly, I didn’t feel any great need to do it again. I’ve never seen Bon Jovi since, as somehow this just felt like a perfect way to tick them off the list. It’s strange that other bands have made me want to go back time and again, but somehow this one show was so good I felt I was done after one! Maybe I’ll have to check them out again soon.
Finally, the thing that stood out was my car door, as it was hanging open in the centre of Cardiff. Somehow I had managed to leave it not just unlocked, but open in a busy city centre car park for eight hours, and no one had touched it! Once I had convinced myself that no one would have randomly stumbled upon it and decided to plant a bomb in it that would explode when I turned the ignition, I had to acknowledge that I had a car that was so f***ing sh*t that no one had even bothered to look inside and find and take the stupidly expensive CD and minidisc changer I had recently had installed.
That would have taken the shine off the day somewhat.
- Just a great set-list. It helped that it was kind of a ‘greatest hits’ tour, so there was no particular focus on one album, but it just felt like we were being spoiled throughout.
- I love how ‘Always’ and ‘Someday I’ll be Saturday Night’ became such big songs for the band, despite just being the token new tracks on Cross Road. That doesn’t seem to happen with other bands’ Greatest Hits album tracks (I invite your examples to prove me wrong)
- They totally flipped things around on me and played “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the back end of the show!
- FOUR encores!!! That is excessive. But the fourth, “Never Say Goodbye”, was just Richie and Jon acoustic, and legitimately felt like it was an unplanned reappearance because we were such a great crowd. I’ll choose to believe that was the case.
That’s it for this one. Thanks for reading.