Meat-and-potatoes pop metal - it sounds like an oxymoron, but in Bon Jovi's capable hands the earnest working class meets teased hair and pretty power chords, over and over and over again.
Bon Jovi's show at the Garden last night, the first in a two-night stand, was a model of heartfelt efficiency. Tuneful rockers alternated with button-pushing power ballads - all built using a secret recipe formulated a quarter century ago. Miraculously, it works just as well in 2008 as the day Jon Bon Jovi wrote "Livin' On a Prayer."
OK, it's not such a big secret. Take a few lighter-worthy guitar riffs, sweeten them with a one-size-fits-all melody, and pump it up with romantic or galvanizing or empowering cliches. Don't burden the process with surprise or invention. Arrange for the handsome, charismatic frontman to stay that way well into his forties and for the band to deliver the material with genuine enthusiasm and real skill. And just keep doing it.
Bon Jovi is touring behind its 11th album, "Lost Highway," a "country" album that's actually a collection of signature anthems that nods to Nashville by way of an occasional banjo or fiddle part. The fiddler - in Bon Jovi's world she's a skinny vixen in thigh-high boots - came along on the tour to lend that hint of a wisp of a suggestion of twang to the new songs.
They opened the two-hour set with the title track, but instead of signaling a fresh direction it reestablished a standard-issue template that by the halfway mark - after "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "In These Arms" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" and "It's My Life" - would feel a little like an overdose.
Richie Sambora took a soulful turn at the microphone on "I'll Be There For You," and for a minute it sounded like a rough-and-tumble blues before turning into an assembly-line power ballad. But the guitarist supplied a welcome stream of wailing solos among the familiar verses.
Yet when the songs started to blur into a mass of pumping fists straight down the middle of the road, the frontman delivered like it was his last day on earth. Jon Bon Jovi doesn't do the token rock-star hand swipe with the audience. He intertwines digits, he grips and shakes, dispensing loving looks and magnanimous smiles while making his way through the crowd singing "Bed of Roses." Every woman - and probably man -took it personally. That's all that really counts.
The All-American Rejects name Bon Jovi as a key influence, and they've learned their lessons well. Shiny hooks and manicured power chords abounded during their opening set. But the Oklahoma band brought a scrappy, sunny energy and touch of adventure that has always eluded the cosmically coiffed main act.
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.