Before I attended their concert at the Allphones arena, I wasn’t really aware of Nickelback’s music. I was, however, aware of their work as walking punch lines: I had read about the (reasonably popular) online petition to get them banned from ever attending the UK; and, more recently, I had read the status from Queensland police trying to get them arrested for ‘impersonating musicians.’ But despite all that bad press, I leapt at the opportunity to review one of their gigs. I refused to believe that Nickelback were as bad as they had been made out to be and saw the concert as an opportunity to meet the band on their own turf.
With that optimistic headspace in mind, let’s begin with the positives. Nickelback are, if nothing else, an incredibly tight band. Drummer Daniel Adair in particular impressed: during a lengthy instrumental, he showed off his prowess on the skins in a way that felt genuinely impressive rather than show off-y. Guitarist Ryan Peake came across well too, with his guitar work on Gotta Be Somebody and She Keeps Me Up proving gig highlights.
The set was well crafted, with songs played that spanned the band’s entire career. The mega-hits were paid attention – Rockstar was an obvious crowd pleaser – and their new single She Keeps Me Up was performed enthusiastically. The band kept things varied too, performing a few covers, including a karaoke crowd sing-a-long version of Summer of 69 and Hotel California.
I personally didn’t like any of the songs; the music was too derivative, too flat, and too simpering. But the crowd around me did, and the man beside me spent almost the entire concert air guitar-ing along to every song. I can see the appeal of the songs then, I suppose, and ultimately the problem I had with the gig was not the music, but Chad Kroeger’s stage presence. Kroeger took to the mic to engage in stage banter after almost every song – something that I might have appreciated, if Kroeger had not been so repellently sexist and boorish. He spent the majority of the show talking about how desperately he wanted to take acid, and revealed that ‘if you do 40 world tours and spend most of them drunk, you’re going to get a few flashbacks.’ Rather than coming across cool, Kroeger came across like a dad trying to impress his son’s skater friends.
“Flattery will get you everywhere…Backstage if you’re not careful,” Kroeger said at one point to a woman who looked half his age. He ended a number of songs with sexualized grunts into the microphone, and the slideshow that appeared on the screen behind him while he sang his mega-hit Photograph included fan submitted shots of a man standing in front of statues of hippos having sex, and another guy pretending to masturbate.
Nonetheless, even Kroeger seemed embarrassed by the name of one of his songs. He introduced Something In Your Mouth as a ‘silly’ tune, but silly doesn’t even begin to cover it. Hearing the forty year old (and married) Kroeger sing the lines “You’re so much cooler when you never pull it out/’Cause you look so much cuter with something in your mouth” while winking at 20 year old women in the front row caused me to gag a little.
When I was trying to find someone to attend the gig with me, everybody I asked laughed. “You couldn’t pay me to come,” said one of my friends. The general consensus seemed to be that the band were a kind of joke. But I wasn’t laughing by the time Nickelback were done. If the gig taught me anything, it’s not that the band are some harmless group of troubadours that have become famous by playing not very good music. There is something more insidious about their success; something scuzzy; something sexist; something that left a genuinely bad taste in my mouth as I left the Allphones arena. So yes, I ended up hating them, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I suppose the old adage is true: you do learn something new every day.
Million Miles an Hour
Something in Your Mouth
Gotta Be Somebody
Edge of a Revolution
Master of Puppets / Walk
Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin cover)
She Keeps Me Up
Summer of ’69 / Hotel California (Crowd karaoke)
When We Stand Together
Figured You Out
How You Remind Me
Everlong (Foo Fighters cover)
Burn It to the Ground