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Bon Jovi butter up Xcel with slick banter, surplus hits

Facebook: Bon Jovi; David Bergman

Facebook: Bon Jovi; David Bergman

Lest any prospective buyers didn’t get the message the first time, Bon Jovi brought their This House is Not for Sale Tour back to the Xcel Energy Center for a second go-round Saturday night.

The global trek is named after Jon Bon Jovi's 2016 album of the same name, which they test-drove last March in St. Paul, sans longtime guitarist Richie Sambora. But the group’s Twin Cities encore found them relying on the hits as much as they ever have. Out of the 22 arena anthems Jon belted out in front of a packed house (which is also not on the market), only two came from the New Jersey outfit’s latest Billboard chart-topper. Saturday’s concert felt like a victory lap celebrating the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this month.

“A lot has happened in the last year,” the singer told the crowd after opening the two-hour set with This House’s title track and Slippery When Wet’s “Raise Your Hands.” “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

If only the sales pitch by the world’s worst real estate agent had felt more personal and less scripted. Not long after a tepid reception to 1992’s “Keep the Faith,” he praised the audience for its liveliness. “I ain’t just saying this to say it, but you’ve been the best crowd of the whole tour. Honestly, St. Paul, you’ve been better than New Jersey!” (I hope he didn’t use that line in Newark.)

Of course, the whole “you’re the greatest audience I’ve had the pleasure of performing in front of” routine is a tried-and-true arena tactic. Fortunately for the former owner of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul, that’s exactly what he trades in.

Bon Jovi whipped the Xcel into a frenzy early, busting out “You Give Love a Bad Name” as his third song of the night and eliciting more fist-pumping than the venue has seen since Game 3 of the Wild-Jets series two weeks ago. A few songs later came his biggest hits of the new millennium, 2000’s “It’s My Life” and 2005’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” and then a trip to a tiny B-stage in the middle of the lower bowl for a pair of slower numbers, “Amen” and “Bed of Roses.” The group’s rendition of breakout hit “Runaway” was another highlight, with the frontman channeling a younger, feistier version of himself as keyboardist David Bryan’s famous riff echoed throughout the hall.

Recalling the stage setup for another diminutive working-class hero from New Jersey, Bon Jovi’s stage production was surprisingly minimal. Armed with only a slanted lighting rig that rose up and down as necessary, the impetus was on Bon Jovi, Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, bassist Hugh McDonald, guitarists Phil X and John Shanks, and percussionist Everett Bradley (also borrowed from Springsteen) to sell the songs. Only one of them, This House’s “God Bless This Mess,” was earmarked for a production budget, as four banners dropped down to display projections of fake news clippings about the band during the new tune, which came near the end of the main set.

The band walked off stage the first time following New Jersey smash “Bad Medicine,” while Bon Jovi’s two greatest contributions to the karaoke canon, Slippery’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” gave both diehards and casual fans a chance to shout at the top of their lungs in the encore.

Who says you can’t go home after a one-two punch like that? Especially when said home is yours, as you did not put it up for sale.

Critic’s Bias: None at all. While discussing my relative unfamiliarity with Bon Jovi with my wife as we drove to the show, I counted six songs that I knew. “Runaway” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” are the only ones I particularly enjoy.

Overheard in the Crowd: A woman three seats down from me became so annoyed with the millennial in front of her for Snapchatting the entire show that, about halfway through, she tried to slap the phone away. A security guard visited our row soon thereafter. Another lady in my row exclaimed, “L.L. Cool J -- Ladies Love Cool Jovi!” and deserves recognition for her cross-genre ’80s double-reference.

Setlist:
This House is Not for Sale
Raise Your Hands
You Give Love a Bad Name
Whole Lot of Leavin’
Lost Highway
Born to Be My Baby
Who Says You Can’t Go Home
It’s My Life
We Weren’t Born to Follow
Runaway
We Got It Goin’ On
Keep the Faith
Amen
Bed of Roses
Lay Your Hands on Me
God Bless This Mess
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
Bad Medicine
I’ll Be There for You
Blood on Blood
Wanted Dead or Alive
Livin’ on a Prayer