It wasn’t even 9 p.m., but Jon Bon Jovi had made up his mind: “I think it’s about time that we blow the roof off this place,” he told the crowd gathered in his honor at Friday’s MusiCares Person of the Year gala. That was the veteran rocker’s way of bringing out Bruce Springsteen — “my mentor, my friend, my brother, my hero,” he said — and if the two Jersey boys didn’t quite succeed in taking the top off the Los Angeles Convention Center, their rollicking take on Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” did get the assembled high-rollers on their feet.
“As I look out here at all you tuxedoed music executives, quick reminder,” said the man of the hour. “This here’s a Bon Jovi concert — we don’t sit down.”
Typically the artist being feted at this annual fundraiser for the Recording Academy’s charitable organization waits until the end of the night to perform. But Bon Jovi, 61, went on first Friday; he also sang his band’s new single, “Legendary,” and did Springsteen’s “The Promised Land” with the Boss, whom Bon Jovi thanked for making the trip to L.A. just days after the death of his 98-year-old mother. Before the music, a live auction raised more than $100,000 for MusiCares, including $27,000 one person donated for the chance to sip wine with Bon Jovi in the Hamptons. As the evening’s host, comedian Jim Gaffigan gently ribbed the singer about the poofy hair and denim shorts he sported in the ’80s, back when Bon Jovi was one of the biggest acts in rock.
Sitting at a table with Springsteen, Paul McCartney and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Bon Jovi grinned gamely as Gaffigan got off his best joke: a suggestion that the four reboot the Traveling Wilburys.
As always with MusiCares — recent honorees include Smokey Robinson, Joni Mitchell, Aerosmith and Dolly Parton — the tribute concert that followed Bon Jovi’s performance was something of a mixed bag. Melissa Etheridge was wonderfully growly in “Blaze of Glory”; Jason Isbell wielded a double-necked guitar with credible swagger in “Wanted Dead or Alive”; and the War and Treaty, a husband-and-wife country-soul duo nominated for new artist at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, delivered the night’s finest vocals by far in their stirring rendition of “I’ll Be There for You” (they also performed the song during the In Memoriam segment of last month’s Emmy Awards).
Yet Shania Twain seemed to get lost in a lethargic version of “Bed of Roses,” while Train’s Pat Monahan lacked the pugnacious thrust crucial to “It’s My Life.” As for the hugely appealing Jelly Roll, well, if this Southern rapper turned country star had ever heard “Bad Medicine” before he sang it with the help of a prompter at the back of the room, he didn’t show it here. (Other acts on the bill included Sammy Hagar, Måneskin’s Damiano David, Marcus King and Mammoth WVH.)
Bon Jovi reappeared onstage at the end of the evening to accept the Person of the Year award for his philanthropic efforts. “Every time I strum my guitar, I’m reminded that I have a best friend for life. That instrument will never let you down,” he said, acknowledging that he’s been more fortunate than millions of other musicians. MusiCares, he added, offers a safety net in an industry with few of them. Then he teamed with a pair of Grammy-nominated country artists, Brandy Clark and Lainey Wilson, to close the show with a fist-pumping run through the old Bon Jovi hit about just that.
“Whoa oh, we’re halfway there,” they sang, “Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer.”