Nickelback @ Brisbane Entertainment Centre (22/11/2012)

A Nickelback concert is a product as routinely assembled as a hamburger, as JODY MACGREGOR discovered at Brisbane Entertainment Centre last Thursday.

According to the latest issue of Haterade Monthly all the cool kids are pouring scorn on Mumford and Sons this season, so it’s time to give Nickelback a break. They can’t really be as bad as their detractors say they are. In fact, here is a short list of bands who are worse than Nickelback:


Theory of a Deadman

The Black Eyed Peas

So, clearly, not the worst band in the world after all.

The Brisbane Entertainment Centre is full of people who have an even higher opinion of Nickelback than I do. These people aren’t the people who were recently in this venue to see Radiohead. It’s an older audience, some of whom have brought their kids, and obviously a less fashionable one. I only spot a couple of mullets, but I do see T-shirts for Aussie Pride, Monster energy drink, and Top Gear. Making fun of the fashion choices of people at a Nickelback concert is shooting fish in a barrel, I know, but think about it – doesn’t shooting fish in a barrel sounds like a super-fun thing to do? All right, then.

Nickelback are wearing plain black when they emerge at nine pm. Their drummer, Dan Adair, has a sleeveless Metallica t-shirt (from Ride the Lightning – excellent choice), which is entirely appropriate when they open with ‘This Means War’. From their seventh album, 2011’s Here and Now, it sounds more like Metallica than anything Metallica have released in years. Chad Kroeger’s bullfrog croak is a passable imitation of James Hetfield’s and the years the band spent playing Metallica covers in Canadian pubs has clearly served them well. As a lapsed fan of the Four Horsemen, I am genuinely enjoying this bundle of monstrous thrash. If they didn’t have Chad “Sad rock Jesus” Kroeger singing for them, these guys would get far more respect. Close your eyes at the right moment and you could be at A Perfect Circle gig.

Next, they play ‘Something in Your Mouth’, which is basically their version of Bryan Adams’ ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You’. The screens behind them alternate between silhouette strippers and the song’s lyrics, so that we can be suitably astounded when the words blur as Kroeger does his trick of singing very fast. It is an impressive trick – he manages to spit out “Dirty little lady with the pretty pink thong/Every sugar daddy hitting on her all night long/Doesn’t care about the money, she could be with anybody/Ain’t it funny how the honey wanted you all along” in about seven seconds flat.

They have several impressive tricks. Adair plays a drum solo – yes, really – pretending to be exhausted at the end only to start up again as soon as the applause kicks in, over and over again. Guitarist and backing singer Ryan Peake gives a masterclass in rock moves, dodging away from the microphone between every line like it’s throwing punches and he’s Muhammad Ali.

‘Bottoms Up’ is the first of several drinking anthems they play. These are the themes of Nickelback songs: Attractive women; attractive women who have personally wronged Chad Kroeger; nostalgia; and booze. Later in the night they’ll do shots and throw beer at the audience, right now they just sing about it. Kroeger tells us that being big drinkers is something Canadians and Australians have in common (it’s easy to forget these guys are Canadian, given how completely they’ve embraced the American language of success, talking about the business of showbusiness in interviews using the same 48 Laws of Power-dialect as Jay-Z). They also boast about who has smoked the most weed, which is as embarrassing as it would be in any student sharehouse. ‘Bottoms Up’, though – and I swear this is the last Metallica comparison I will make – sounds like Metallica doing a Jack Daniels ad.

“Close your eyes at the right moment and you could be at A Perfect Circle gig.”

When they aren’t slamming together powertool riffs, Nickelback play their ballads. As they launch into ‘Photograph’ a sea of phones lights up and people take photographs of Nickelback performing a song about photographs. It’s a song that’s full of specific details perfectly designed to evoke more general feelings. Yes, I am about to praise a Nickelback lyric. Specifically, this one: “Kim’s the first girl I kissed/I was so nervous that I nearly missed/She’s had a couple of kids since then/I haven’t seen her since God knows when.” It’s so precise as to name the girl, but the sensation is one every person packed into this building singing along right now identifies with. The people you knew in high school remain teenagers in your memory in spite of how much they’ve changed since then. This is a thing that Nickelback do well: They create moments that feel personal for their fans in spite of being shared by thousands.

A Nickelback concert is a product as routinely assembled as a hamburger – every stage move carefully rehearsed and perfected – but there’s also something different added at each stop, and that secret ingredient is us. Kroeger’s patter between songs is localised (he got stuck in traffic on the way to Boondal for this show, just like we did – the common touch!), and during ‘Rockstar’ the screens alternate between showing him belting the song out and members of the audience singing along right there with him. Every one of those people will have something to tell their friends about tomorrow.

Nickelback get away with sucking up to their audience hugely and blatantly – Kroeger’s favourite words are “Thank you so much!” shouted every second song, they hand out guitar picks, drumsticks, t-shirts, and beer – because their audience identify with them as much as those all-inclusive songs. There’s no pretension or separation, Nickelback are just a bunch of chill bros who like doing shots and probably spend their weekends playing Xbox. They are never going to go weird and release an album that sounds radically different to their careful formula, and they are never going to let you down by breaking up over creative differences, or by not finishing a concert with their biggest hit (‘How You Remind Me’) and then performing the inevitable encore, as they do tonight.

In an uncertain world where even the Foo Fighters are on indefinite hiatus, Nickelback can be relied on to always be Nickelback – and there’s a certain comfort in that.

(Photo: Barry Brecheisen Photography)

Related: In defence of Nickelback