Arena rock is not dead.

I know this because I fulfilled a years-long goal last night and saw Bon Jovi in concert. And to pen a line after my pal Alfred, they fukn rocked.

Things you say about most bands don't apply to Bon Jovi. They don't have a fresh sound or light up the crowd with kick-ass dance moves (in fact, Jon Bon Jovi might be the most awkward "dancer" I can recall seeing in quite some time). You have to lump Bon Jovi with bands like U2 and maybe REM, bands that keep kicking, selling records and filling arenas twenty-two years after they hit the music world. The difference between Bon Jovi and U2 and other bands like that is that Bon Jovi hasn't really evolved musically. If anything, they've toned themselves down as they age.

But that don't mean they fail to rock the hell out of a crowd with their old stuff and even get people going with the new stuff.

You can tell in certain moments that the men of Bon Jovi are not the same leather-clad long-haired rockers, really the only 80's arena hair band to come out of that era and still make new and good records, they once were. Jon cannot hit the high notes the way he once could; on Livin' on a Prayer he lets the crowd take over those notes, on Always he drops a couple of the high notes down a bit. Richie doesn't move around a whole bit, though he can still play the hell of the guitar, and Tico still looks like he's just kicking it waiting for the bus to come. But I tell you, if I still have half the rock those guys do at age 40, I'll be a happy man.

At the end of You Give Love a Bad Name, when the entire crowd was belting out the lyrics and Jon & Co. were kicking back and loving it, Jon said into the mike, "I'd like to see Britney Spears do that." And we went nuts. On Raise Your Hands, you would have thought James Brown was doing the show -- everyone's hand shooting up in the air in sync with Jon singing. And right before they left the stage for the first time, Jon gave this whole line about he couldn't be responsible for what he was about to do, asked if there was a doctor in the thouse, and then launched into Bad Medicine. And throughout the night, the crowd simply boiled over with energy. We sang the entire first verse of Dead or Alive while the guys sat back and just had a "DAMN" look on their face. Sounds pretty goofy, I'm sure, but it absolutely rocked for those lucky enough to be there.

But in all honesty, they probably do that sort of thing every night. But we got something special last night. The Jon Bon Jovi birthday celebration.

A few people in the crowd had Happy Birthday signs, and people down on the floor threw a variety of birthday cards onto the stage. At one point Jon picked one up, opened it and started reading it silently to himself. Richie walked over, peeped over Jon's shoulder and then said, so that every could hear, "she says she LUUVVES you!" Absolutely priceless delivery. For the first encore, everyone but Jon came out in either a gold or silver jacket and top hat, started playing the Beatles' Happy Birthday for Jon, who walked out in the middle of it all. The roadies then wheeled a big cake onto the stage, out of which jumped a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. She then proceeded to do her very best sexy "Happy Birthday" for the whole crowd, smooched Jon a few times, and then Richie had us all sing again. And just to celebrate a little more, we got the extra special second encore, a rarity these days, with the boys playing a variety of upbeat cover songs.

Just an awesome performance. The most fun I've had at a concert in a long time. And I felt all this from about seven rows down from the very top of the United Center.

The crowd at the show was a wholly other source of enjoyment. I have never seen a more ecletic group. Normally I feel old sometimes at concerts because it appears that a number of my favorite performers have a strong local high school following (it's kind of embarrassing, to tell you the truth), but last night, man. Fifty year-olds, forty year-old yuppies, thirty year-old former sororiety sisters, mulleted men in acid washed jeans and denim jackets, one guy with six tattoos and a Judas Priest t-shirt: the whole thing just blew my mind. I could have sat out in the lobby and watched people go by all night.

Goo Goo Dolls did an admirable job as an opening act.

Anyway, it's late, I'm exhausted, but I finally got to see Bon Jovi. Richie was amazing, Tico was Tico (if I could ever have one Bon Jovi souvenir, I would want an authentic pair of Tico Torres drumming gloves), the keyboard-player name Hugh with the same hair as the actor from "Greatest American Hero" did a great job as the anonymous band member, and Jon was... a living legend. How to describe JBJ: back and forth the whole night, shadow-boxing in his really tight pants, repeatedly just sticking his arms up in the air and staring at the sky, rocking it out and singing all our old favorites while mixing in the right amount of new stuff.

I go to bed happy tonight because my life feels just a little more complete than it did when the weekend started.