On their latest tour Nickelback’s shtick rings hollower than usual -- and for this band, that’s saying something.
Nickelback + The Pretty RecklessCity: Saskatoon, SK
Venue: SaskTel Centre
When Nickelback launched their 2012 tour in support of the album Here and Now, at the very least the Canadian foursome proved to one and all that they could put on an arena show as well as anyone. The band pulled out all the stops: a lavish stage setup with ramps galore (some with conveyor belts), a dazzling light rig, a massive screen, a second stage that flew out like a spaceship to the other end of the arena. Plus t-shirt cannons, beer thrown into the crowd, fireworks, pillars of flame, and the most concussion pots anyone has ever been subjected to at a rock concert. Was it overcompensation to make up for some rather bland music? Hell yes, but it all made for a gloriously effective spectacle that swayed this skeptic, who was never a fan of Nickelback in the first place. It left such a strong impression that after seeing the band’s latest show three years later, the complete lack of bells, whistles, and pyrotechnics had yours truly quoting Michael Maltese:
“Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.”
If the Here and Now tour catered to the hard rock crowd, with its strong emphasis on explosions and songs that leaned toward the heavier side of the scale, the current tour in support of the 2014 album No Fixed Address caters -- some would say panders -- toward the mainstream country audience. Save for the ubiquitous pillars of fire that made oddly tasteful appearances three times, the 90-minute show is a lot leaner than the last time, with a simpler, streamlined stage, a surprisingly restrained light and video show, and most notably, a setlist that relies heavily on ballads and covers. Considering the heavy rocking Revolver favorites The Pretty Reckless were selected to open made Nickelback’s restrained performance seem even odder on this night.
After the Pretty Reckless kicking the night off with a raucous, impressive 45-minute set, with statuesque singer Taylor Momsen strutting about like a combination of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, Chad Kroeger led Nickelback onstage in understated fashion, with no fanfare, no ostentatious overture to whip the crowd of 10,000 into a frenzy. All four guys walked out and kicked into “Million Miles an Hour”, the closest thing to a hard rock tune on the tepid new album. Kroeger strutted around like a frosted-tipped James Hetfield with his black t-shirt, Explorer guitar, and black wristbands, only playing lightweight riffs instead of rhythm guitar muscle.
After a perfunctory performance of the lascivious “Something in Your Mouth” that elicited screams of delight from the huge number of women in the audience -- who clearly had no problem with the song’s awkward misogyny -- the momentum came to a dead halt, as the band carted out four consecutive power ballads. Sure, “Photograph” is an admittedly sweet song that works well in an arena, but to follow that with 2002 smash “Hero”, “What Are You Waiting For?”, and “Far Away” was pure overkill. Nickelback overplayed its hand a little too much. Performances of the band’s three smarmiest songs -- the condescending “Rock Star”, the shallow “issues ‘n’ stuff” tunes “When We Stand Together” and “Edge of a Revolution” -- certainly didn’t help things either.
While the rest of the show had its moments -- 2001 hit “Too Bad”, “Animals”, and 2014’s audacious and deceptively disco foray “She Keeps Me Up” -- Kroeger and his mates kept interrupting the show with a series of self-indulgent, pandering covers that were even cheaper attempts at applause than the band’s more populist originals. The band jammed Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Pantera’s “Walk” in an effort to maintain some sort of metal credibility. The Tragically Hip’s CanRock classic “Blow at High Dough” was carted out, which of course incited a sing-along among the beered-up throng. Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick”, the Eagles’ “Take it Easy” and “Hotel California”, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”; it was complete overkill, a lazy effort by a band that clearly doesn’t give a damn. The night ended with a rousing rendition of “Burn it to the Ground”, by far the band’s best song, but compared to the sheer lunacy of their show three years ago, this performance, devoid of the gimmicks of before, had Nickelback’s shtick ringing hollower than usual. And for this band, that’s saying something.