Nickelback enjoys the show
WORCESTER - It was the kind of night where Nelson Mandela, Playboy bunnies, Margaret Mead, weed, Bono, drug dealers on speed dial, and Kid Rock all got shout-outs, either from the stage or on the massive video screen.
Hey, what else would you expect from Nickelback, the Canadian hard-rock gods who keenly skirt the line between class and crass? Usually the quartet ends up on the latter side, and Thursday night's amped-up performance at the DCU Center was a lesson in how bigger spectacles aren't always better.
Since forming in the mid-1990s, Nickelback has gotten little love (OK, none at all) from critics and music snobs, but the band doesn't need them, anyway. Nickelback fans are a loyal and mighty tolerant lot, prone to indulge lead singer and guitarist Chad Kroeger's sense of humor that often bordered on poor taste.
Prefacing the song "Figured You Out," he boasted, "There's something about the first line of this next song. It has a strange sort of power over young ladies." Drum roll, please: "I like your pants around your feet." (That was practically pillow talk after the opening salvo, "Something in Your Mouth.")
The Nickelback guys - including Ryan Peake on guitar, Mike Kroeger on bass, and Daniel Adair on drums - are a tight unit and clearly they relish the excesses of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, from the gunshot pops of pyrotechnics on various songs to the banter about lining up kegs for the audience. Good for them. They're having fun up there, and the crowd responds enthusiastically.
Too often, though, you wondered why the music couldn't stand on its own. At one point Kroeger - an engaging frontman who can make a standard "How's everybody doing tonight?" come off as a coarse Sam Kinison greeting - mentioned that the band pulls out all the stops to keep its fans entertained.
Perhaps some musical surprises (say, a stunning guitar solo or a switch in tempo) would just as easily do the job. The band did score points, though, for an unexpectedand moving cover of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," with guitarist Peake assuming lead vocals.
Nickelback has an uncanny songwriting formula that renders every tune radio-ready, pleasant and catchy to begin with but even better when sung in unison by a thousand voices strong.
Maybe that's why the band was most compelling during the moments that didn't feel so tailor-made for arenas. On "Photograph," the group waxed nostalgic for growing up in a small town, complete with a video montage of kids making funny faces and teens in graduation caps and gowns. (Shameless audience-pandering alert! The montage included a few scenes from Red Sox Nation, including an adorable little boy decked out in his baseball finery - and flipping the bird.)
At press deadline, the band was firing up the crowd with yet another bit of theatrics: cannon rifles that lobbed Nickelback T-shirts deep into the DCU Center. It was even more spectacle when some spontaneity and sincerity would have made it a night of real rock 'n' roll.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.