Bon Jovi at 30: Band stays loyal to longtime fans

At this point in their three decade career, it’s fairly obvious that Bon Jovi are survivors. Sure, the majority of their puffed hair, Spandex-strapped contemporaries from the 1980s have since faded into obscurity and late-night punch lines, but these Jersey Boys continue to churn out chart toppers and sell out arenas all across the globe.

A band this huge isn’t performing solely for audiences desperate to drench themselves with a full glass of nostalgia either. Bon Jovi is a massive rock ’n’ roll snowball gaining both new fans and traction while showing no signs of slowing down.

Arguably at the most popular point in their existence, Bon Jovi will swing through State College on Feb. 23 at the Bryce Jordan Center for their “Because We Can Tour,” which is in support of the upcoming album “What About Now,” set to be released at the end of next month.

Unfairly and ignorantly categorized as an ’80s hair band, Bon Jovi are one of the best-selling American bands from the past quarter century, having sold more than 130 million albums worldwide. It would be easy, and perhaps tempting, to just coast on the success of their past, but Bon Jovi has instead opted to continue to create, record and tour while still maintaining perspective and a freshness that is hard to find among many veteran acts of their stature.

“Obviously it starts with our dedication to touring,” guitarist Richie Sambora said of the band’s longevity. “We’ve always had that adage that we would play everywhere we could in the world and take our music to every place we could.”

Having the opportunity to see any artist live is a special occasion, but for legions of Bon Jovi fans who have been following the band since the 1980s, it’s especially rewarding and significant to have their children, and in some cases, their grandchildren, join them in the crowd as they sing along to the soaring choruses of the band’s hits such as “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

“I think that we’ve been very, very loyal to our fans, and, consequently, our fans have been very loyal to us,” Sambora said. “I think that we just write songs that people can relate to and it becomes a part of the soundtrack of their lives. That’s a privilege in itself.”

Of course the band will play selections from their extensive back catalog, but the “Because We Can Tour” is also a rock ’n’ roll business trip in promotion of their 12th studio album, “What About Now.”

“What it really sounds like is us at the end of the day,” Sambora said while discussing the sonic elements of the new album. “A band like us that’s been around for almost 30 years now, we’re not chasing anything down but ourselves and chasing down the song and making sure that that works.”

“If you put the four of us in a room, it’s going to sound like us,” keyboardist David Bryan said. “For me keyboard-wise, every year there’s a bunch of new stuff out there, so there’s a lot of cool soft songs, so I could use really cool sounds. So you try to do your homework there and get the new stuff and get the cool stuff and try to make it sonically up to date, if you will.”

Being from New Jersey, it’s almost mandatory that Bon Jovi apply a blue-collar work ethic to their music. While there are hints of that on their latest record they are also cognizant of what is happening outside of the Garden State.

“The record has a lot of themes,” Sambora said. “What was happening in the world kind of pushed this record out. Our last tour was about 52 countries and the different economic situations that were happening all over the world and how people were reacting to them personally. We started feeling those undercurrents all the way back then. In our particular fashion, just having a very optimistic outlook in the songs is always very important. Even a song like the first single, ‘Because We Can,’ is a song of inclusion and also if you can help somebody, you should try to do it because you can.”

But while the band continues to strike a fine balance between the vintage and modern, their live show is expected to stay the course

“We play for at least two and a half hours, sometimes longer, so there’s a lot of songs from all the records,” Bryan said. “We know there’s staples that as fans we would want to hear, so we always give that, and then we change up a bunch of songs and then throw in a couple of new ones. Every night it’s different.”

Bon Jovi’s “Because We Can — The Tour” will start at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Bryce Jordan Center, University Park. Visit www.bjc.psu.edu or call 865-5555.