Jon Bon Jovi - vocals, guitar; David Bryan - keyboards, vocals; Richie Sambora - guitar, vocals; Alec Such - bass, vocals; Tico Torres - drums, vocals
Recorded just weeks after the release of their debut album, presented here is the finest early example of Bon Jovi live on stage, when they were a young, hungry band just starting out, opening for other groups (in this case the German heavy rock band Scorpions). At this initial stage in what turned out to be a career of incredible longevity, Bon Jovi's brand of melodic, well-crafted rock was undeveloped, and their performance is far grittier and immediate than everything that followed. The band was still relatively unknown outside of their home stomping grounds of New Jersey, and this performance, recorded by the King Biscuit Flower Hour, provides listeners the ability to clearly hear Bon Jovi winning over Philadelphia.
With a stage repertoire limited to their debut album material and nearly an hour of stage-time to fill, it's not surprising that the set is essentially a live performance of that entire album but re-sequenced for the stage and concluding with their breakout single, "Runaway." Those who came on board in 1985 with the band's 7800 Fahrenheit" album or during the following year's multi-platinum breakthrough Slippery When Wet may find this performance surprising, as Bon Jovi rarely rocked harder than they did in 1984. The musicianship, melodicism, and songwriting craft is still undeveloped here, but the band more than makes up for it with the raw energy that at this point in time was winning them new fans the old fashioned way—one audience at a time.
To win over this audience of headbanging Scorpions fans, Bon Jovi has no choice but to come out swinging, and they do this by immediately delivering a triple whammy of the heaviest rockers from their debut album. They begin with the anthemic "Break Out," written by Jon Bon Jovi and keyboard player David Bryan, a song that commands attention, and with its arena rock style, hints at the band's potential. This immediately segues into the high velocity of "Come Back" and then perhaps the heaviest rocker from the album, "Roulette," both written by Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. The latter song emphasizes Sambora's guitar playing, but the entire band (especially Bryan, who plays both synth and piano) seems to be firing on all cylinders.
The melodic flare that would soon become a trademark of the band's own songwriting is more apparent on the next song, a cover of Fair Warning's "She Don't Know Me." Kicked off by drummer Tico Torres, and fueled by an undeniably catchy guitar riff, this song was written by Fair Warning's Mark Avsec and would have the distinction of being one of the only songs ever featured on a Bon Jovi album that was written outside the band. Recorded at Mercury Records' request, with the intention of it becoming a single, this may not be an original, but it clearly had an impact on the band's subsequent writing, which would also begin emphasizing Bon Jovi's passionate vocals and catchy choruses with sing-a-long vocal harmonies.
Romantic tendencies and the topic of love in general would always figure strongly in Bon Jovi's repertoire, and that set them apart from many of the headbanger bands of the 1980s. This side of the band is strongly conveyed during the next three numbers, beginning with "Shot From the Heart," which starts off slow and full of heartache before building to an explosive conclusion, a song structure the band would continue to mine in the years to come. Picking up the pace is "Burning For Love," which again showcases Sambora's lead guitar contributions before things take a more dramatic turn with "Love Lies," a slower-paced, driving rocker that continues to build over the course of six plus minutes.
Bon Jovi approaches the finish line with an extended workout on the feel good song, "Get Ready," which also closed the debut album. Clocking in at well over eight minutes here, this fast-paced rocker allows the entire band to shine, particularly Sambora, who wails throughout, and Bryan, whose piano work is outstanding.
This enthusiastic performance has the audience wanting more, and when Bon Jovi returns for the encore, they begin in a surprising manner, with Jon Bon Jovi and pianist David Bryan performing a partial duet of the Left Banke's beautiful "Walk Away Rene." What headbangers thought of this, one can only speculate, but Jon Bon Jovi's love for the song is obvious, and although they do not perform the complete song, what is performed is sung with passion and certainly not parody. This serves as a prelude to Bryan's immediately recognizable synth opening which kicks off "Runaway," the song that literally launched Bon Jovi's career. This catchy rocker epitomizes early Bon Jovi at their best and, along with "Shot From the Heart," would be the only song that would remain in the band's live repertoire once they made it big. All of which makes this live recording all the more interesting, as most of this material would be dropped from the band's live repertoire forever. Literally recorded at the dawn of their career, this captures Bon Jovi back where it all began.