Richie Sambora With Orianthi. Dublin Olympia Theatre, Monday 30 June 2014.
Apparently freed from the shackles of a thirty year tenure in Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora returned to Dublin with squeeze Orianthi in tow, to rock them all at the city's ornate Olympia Theatre.
Photo: Eamon O'Neill
There are few bands that inspire as much passionate vitriol from those in the rock and metal world than Bon Jovi. There is Metallica perhaps, and although both bands have huge worldwide fan bases, for some there seems to be something that irks about these uber-successful, multi-million selling, arena filling giants. Whatever side of the divide you are on, the fact remains that not everybody likes Bon Jovi. Ultimately then, not everybody likes Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.
Lately it seems though, that not even Jon Bon Jovi likes Richie Sambora (or is it the other way around?). Whatever has brought about their recent temporary parting of ways, Richie has taken to opportunity to go out and tour his most recent solo album. Tonight he brings the show to Dublin, to surely one of the smallest venues that he has stepped into since the very early days of his New Jersey band.
The queue outside the building that I’m told began at an incredible 5am this morning is testament to the devotion of Bon Jovi’s following. They’ve come from far and wide to witness Sambora’s first ever Irish show, and it is telling that most of those in the queue are from countries other than Ireland. Spanish mingle with Italian and English patrons, all resplendent in faded denims and (mostly) current Sambora tour t-shirts. Come doors opening at 7pm, rumours that later turn out to be true circulate that Richie has been delayed flying in from England, and hasn’t even arrived in the country yet. There’s a nervous tension in the air as people file in. Thankfully, Richie’s love of Twitter soon dispels any fears that he might not show up as he tweets a picture of the stage door accompanied by a caption that reads ‘we’ll be there before long’.
True to his word, as 9pm approaches the man in the hat casually strolls onto the stage. Going against the clichéd ‘big’ rock opening, he’s accompanied by just Matt Rollings on piano and Bon Jovi Producer Luke Ebbin on keyboards. As he stands on the lip of the stage, sans guitar like some Sinatra-esque lounge act, crooning Leon Russell’s ‘A Song For You’, the understated introduction seems like more of a farewell than a hello. However, the rest of the band soon arrives, and Richie straps on his strat as the show proper begins. They launch straight into ‘Every Road Leads Home To You’ from 2012’s ‘Aftermath of The Lowdown’. It’s the sort of everyman, uplifting anthem that Bon Jovi have made their own, and Richie’s devoted following lap up every nuance. ‘Nowadays’ follows, and it is a bit of a stylistic departure that brings to mind the most hard rockin’ of Foo Fighters tracks. Just three songs into the set and the first Bon Jovi track arrives. With its gospel leanings, ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ temporarily turns the Olympia into a something akin to a Harlem church, as the crowd sing along with gusto, arms aloft. Next up is an oldie form his first solo album. ‘Stranger in This Town’ is perhaps one of the standout tracks from the same-titled twenty-three year old debut, and tonight it is both soulful and tender.
There’s a spontaneity to Sambora’s band that just would not be possible in the rigidity of his stadium rock day-job, and this is none more apparent than during the next two songs. ‘Burn The Candle Down’ features some cacophonous soloing between Sambora and his current foil Orianthi which is in truth, a little over the top in places. The interplay of the two guitarists works much better on the next track. ‘We’ve all got to weather the storm’, he says as he introduces it. It’s a genuinely touching sentiment that hints at the turbulence of his own life. Orianthi really shines during the song, as she does when she takes the mic for ‘You Don’t Wanna Know’, a track from her 2103 solo album. Sambora meanwhile is very much director, his every gesture is a signal to the band who follow every nod, wink and facial expression. As a result there is plenty of measured and tasteful jamming from the band, as guitar and piano solos are traded on cue such as during ‘Learning How To Fly With A Broken Wing’.
Next up though, Richie takes on something altogether more personal. Referencing the U2 song ‘Kite’ which Bono wrote about making peace with the difficult relationship he had with his father before he died, Sambora talks about bottoming out following the death of his own father. He puts his heart and soul into ‘Seven Years Gone’, the track that he wrote as a result. One of the biggest cheers of the night however, greets the six-note intro to ‘Never Say Goodbye’. It’s the archetypal Bon Jovi ballad, and the crowd sing along to every word. It may receive a rousing response, but it’s nothing compared what follows. As Sambora changes hats and straps on the famous double neck acoustic, the cheer that greets ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ is truly deafening. As far as show highlights go, it is hard to beat. For the encore, a clutch of competition winners are invited onto the stage to sing backing vocals on ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. The often over-looked ‘These Days’ follows. Beginning worryingly in a cod-reggae style, it thankfully reverts to its traditional rock stylings come the second verse.
It’s clear that Richie has learned a thing or two from his day job. His gestures are big, designed to be seen at the back of stadiums, and his stage banter designed to appeal to all. However more importantly he has the tunes to back it up. ‘I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in Ireland’ he earlier announces, ‘I love this town’. Richie, right now Jon might not, but Dublin it seems loves you too. Don’t be a stranger in this town.