Denise Neil

2 decades later, Bon Jovi still a big deal

Sure, Billy Joel and Elton John are a big deal . . . for some people. But for people like me — people who were 15 years old when Bon Jovi was at the height of its hairband ascension — this week’s concert at Intrust Bank Arena is way bigger.

Huge, in fact.

Maybe even as huge as Jon Bon Jovi’s hairdos (and our own teased-and-sprayed bangs) were back in 1989.

The New Jersey-based band, best known for hits such as “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Bad Medicine” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” will perform at the arena Thursday night as part of its two-year world tour supporting its current album “The Circle.” (Tickets are — UNBELIEVABLY — still available.)

Bon Jovi has been together for 27 years, and the band’s popularity endures today — fueled by nostalgia for my generation and, apparently, by “Guitar Hero” addiction for younger generations.

Reviews from the cities the tour has already visited hint at a two-hour, high-tech concert that’s equal parts old songs and new.

The set list, which apparently varies slightly from city to city, promises to include hits such as “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Bad Medicine,” “Bed of Roses” and encore performances of both “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

But it’s equally populated with lots of newer songs from “The Circle,” including current single “Superman Tonight,” “Thorn in My Side,” “Love’s the Only Rule,” and the radio hit “We Weren’t Born to Follow.”

A month ago, I was among a group of journalists from cities the tour will visit who were invited to participate in a conference call with lead guitarist Richie Sambora and drummer Tico Torres.

Anyone who knew me in 1989 will be surprised to hear I even survived such an event. Back then, I was a high school sophomore with a serious crush on Sambora. (Why not J.B.J. himself? Who knows? I always had to be . . . different.)

Bon Jovi’s Kansas Coliseum concert that year was a huge deal. A friend’s dad drove us from Dodge City and waited for us in the parking lot while we enjoyed the biggest thrill of our 15 years.

Though my devotion has waned as Richie and I have both aged (he’s 50 now), that phone interview was still a pretty hair-raising experience. I actually got to ask him a question, though I’m certain I sounded like a total idiot.

After dutifully informing him that he would be performing at a new arena in Wichita, I asked Sambora if the band ever grew tired of playing the old stuff. Does “Wanted Dead or Alive” become at all dreary the three millionth time one performs it?

“Honestly, let’s put it this way,” he said. “I’m not going to sit around in my house and play ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.’ But when I’m playing in front of people and I’m playing it for people, it becomes something different. And it becomes an experience.”

The bandmates touched on several other topics, including their belief that critics have never taken them seriously (and they don’t care), their thoughts on the economy, and their blue-collar-based desire to keep ticket prices affordable.

In response to another reporter’s question about the secret to their longevity, Sambora noted that the crowds at Bon Jovi’s shows cover a huge age range, including young kids.

“There’s like three generations of people coming to see us now,” Sambora said. “I mean, there’s kids that are just discovering us now through ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Guitar Hero’ and stuff like that, which is very interesting — the way they’re breaking music nowadays.”

At the end of the phone call, I summoned all of my courage and asked Sambora if he saw the poster I was holding up at the Coliseum concert in 1989. The one scrawled in black Sharpie with the words “I LOVE YOU RICHIE!!” Because, I told him, I swear he looked at me and pointed to that sign. Did he remember that?

OK, I didn’t actually ask that. But I know he saw the sign.

Note to self: Stock up on Sharpies and poster board before Thursday.