Nickelback to Calgary: “F***, you rock!!”

By Carey Rutherford

Yeah, there was a fair bit of profanity in the Saddledome when The Pretty Reckless opened up for Nickelback on their recent visit to Calgary. I was originally going to investigate the incredibly polar love/hate relationship music fans have with Nickelback, as there appears to be no middle ground in Calgarians’ opinions about the Hanna band. Clearly, given the ‘packed to the gunnels’ state of the ‘Dome, and Niclelback’s continued success with their newest release, No Fixed Address, SOMEBODY really likes the band, but I seem to be unable to find them willing to admit to it in public.

Given this fact, I wasn’t sure who would be at the Saddledome, as only the 3 of us were willing to play Nickelback publicly. Following the concert, some recent interviewees finally admitted to a Nickelback love, but said they’d deny it in court. It reminded me of the Michael Jackson repugnance that was pretty common in the middle-class in the early to late 90‘s. It seemed to take his death for MJ to finally hurdle that obstacle: hopefully, the same won’t be needed for Alberta’s own hard rockers.

Because, in the same language as most of the performance, Nickelback Kicked Ass! We’re not talking about exploring dangerous ares of the human consciousness; we’re not talking about expanding the boundaries of modern mediated performance; and we’re not talking about pushing their listeners’ envelopes of comfort, challenging their worldviews, nor educating them about the struggles of the downtrodden.

The tone of the evening was first set by the pre-concert music, consisting of 80’s and 90’s rock, including Van Halen, AC-DC, and other no-names. And Pretty Reckless’ opener, full of guitar solos, vocal histrionics, big drums and yes, more profanity (“Sing Your F***ing Balls Off!!”) continued this exultant expenditure of sweat. With a couple of nods to Black Sabbath’s influence in music and lyric (“Ladies and gentlemen, you are ‘Going to Hell’””), and an occasional Pink Floyd guitar lick, they did a fair job of updating the bad boy rock of the 70’s leapfrogging over the 2000’s metal mosh-pit, and using a four-piece band to crank up the listeners’ juices.

Oh, and speaking of juices, there was no shortage of political incorrectness, starting with enthusiastic drinking stories by Chad and his fellow nickel’ers, to discussions of sex and speed and rock ‘n roll. This concert was a throwback without requiring senior citizens to play the instruments.

Perhaps this is the reason for the love/hate division. Such unapologetic rocking is perhaps socially prehistoric: aren’t we supposed to be higher beings of the 21st century, not focussed on enthusiastic self-desecration?

The Saddledome on thursday night was not the place for that conversation.

So how did it sound? From the opening barrage of ‘Million Miles an Hour’, through the enthusiastic karaoke that Kroeger led with only guitarist Ryan Peake’s assistance, to the closing encore of ‘Burn It to the Ground’, this musical experience seemed authentically engaged with it’s very happy listeners.

Sure, there was some strutting and posing, but this wasn’t a tennis match or intimate singer/songwriter cabaret: arena rock requires the same kind of over-expression as the makeup and drama of opera. Except with amplifiers.

In 1989, I had the pleasure of seeing U2 perform the New year’s eve concert in Dublin, and when Bono’s voice gave out on this final night of a week-long series of concerts there, the ticket-buying U2 congregation happily filled in every word in any song he chose to rest in. It was about the massive connection between the performers and their fans. This kind of love-in was pretty obvious from the giant grin on Kroeger’s face as the audience chimed in at the slightest provocation.

As Chad said early on in the concert, “We’ve got a singing crowd here!” and continually connected so directly with the audience, that he stood back and let US sing the entire first verse of ‘Hotel California’ with Peake (“Every Word! Kroeger exulted afterwards), and the newest addition to the Canadian citizenship test, the opening verse of ‘Summer of ’69’ (the ending of which you can hear on the attached clip).

If nothing else, it seemed that Nickelback achieved the highest standard there is for hard rock performance: authentic connection with their audience. There’s nothing else to say, except, “You rock too!” And ‘Thank You’ to Therese for making g this happen.