Nickelback With Pop Evil Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas Friday, April 3, 2015
Nickelback are from Canada. Don't get us wrong; we know that. But as they proved when they passed through Gexa Energy Pavilion on Friday night, America loves the hell out of this band. Sorry, haters, but you're not in the majority on this one. No amount of rolled eyes and snarky comments will ever be able to compete with Chad Kroeger's down-home, frosted-tips charm for the hearts of middle America.
When it comes to making a living off playing music, there's no shame in pandering, and Nickelback knows that well. From the first time Kroeger spoke to the audience, he was waxing his love for the great state of Texas. During the song "Photograph," a photo montage played on the screen, with an image of Tony Romo fixed in the background and another of some Cowboys cheerleaders thrown in towards the end. The band did everything but say "Dez caught it!" to get their point across. But hey, it worked.
In fact, it was all-but-inevitable that there would be some kind of mention of Pantera, given that Nickelback also makes some sort of vague claim to having metal credibility. While the band played -- what else? -- "Walk," Kroeger and lead guitarist Ryan Peake threw red cups full of beer into the audience for crowd members to catch and chug, an homage to an old Pantera routine. The pair also picked up their own red cups that they called "shots," although you had to take them at their word that there was actually alcohol in the cups. Once again, though, it went over perfectly.
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And that's the thing: being heavy handed is the whole idea. When your fan base is cheering along to a song with a chorus like, "You look beautiful with something in your mouth," then subtlety isn't your strong point; in fact, it's to be avoided. Give the people what they want, damn it -- and if what they want is some Bon Jovi and Eagles to go with "Rockstar" or "How You Remind Me," then hell yeah, throw those in there too. (The place went ape shit when those two happened, by the way.)
What Nickelback really represents is some vestige of the rock star fantasy, complete with a new, glittery guitar for every single song. (How many does Peake actually need in one show, besides all of them?) This is music to make an escape to, to relive the simpler days when we were in high school and rock music meant hair metal. It's artless, it's monotonous, and damn if I didn't catch myself clapping after one of the songs and even tapping my foot at one point. If there's a "white person gene" out there, then Nickelback must've bottled it and put it in all of their music.
It was particularly ironic, then, that Daniel Adair's drum expose, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," fell on such deaf ears. Zeppelin should be the stuff of idol worship for these fans, but of course this was a deep cut and the utter silence of the crowd suggested no one had any idea what the song was. It was perhaps one misstep in making sure the night drew on only the most recognizable of cues, but it was saved from being an own-goal once Adair kicked into overdrive with his double-bass pedal.
For the Nickelback faithful, this band is it. It's like a religion. Chances are most people who went to the show at Gexa weren't attending their first Nickelback concert, and that's just the beginning. At one point the big screens flashed a shot of a sign in the back of the crowd from a couple who'd flown to the show in order to "hear our first dance," with the date of their upcoming wedding written above it. It's a way of life.
But what really gives Nickelback such staying power isn't just that they come off like "one of the guys" or their ability to live out some lame fantasy. It's that they give a voice, however lowest-common-denominator it may be, to the large segment of white America that feels unrepresented. It's what the right once called the silent majority. Case in point: During "Edge of a Revolution," Kroeger instructed the crowd to repeat after him, and for the next couple minutes everyone in the crowd had their fists in the air, chanting, "We want change!"
It was a vague, meaningless song as far as political manifestos go (complete with lines like "same shit, different day" and references to Wall St.), and it was also perfect. Nickelback don't have to actually have an opinion, they just have to make their fans feel validated for whatever grudges they hold against the world. Never mind the irony in having a "Keep the Change" bumper sticker. Never mind that there wasn't a minority in sight. These are people who truly feel disenfranchised, oppressed even, and Nickelback speaks to them.
If a band like Nickelback can so universally be derided as terrible when so many people love them to death, then it's no wonder we have so many conspiracy theorists walking among us. That's a lot of weight to put on the band's shoulders, especially because they're just capitalizing, but it's the logical extreme of such fandom. (And isn't this country all about logical extremes?) If you hate Nickelback, you're part of what's wrong with America.
And truth be told, so long as Nickelback can sell out places like Gexa and maintain a cultish following, America has a problem on its hands. It's not Nickelback's fault. It's just a vast chasm that separates the country's two poles -- those who love Nickelback and those who despise them -- who fundamentally can't understand each other and probably don't want to. Until that changes, Nickelback will keep making hay -- and that, friends, is as American as it gets.
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Setlist: Million Miles and Hour Something in Your Mouth Photograph Hero Gotta Be Somebody Far Away Edge of a Revolution Master of Puppets/Walk Too Bad Someday Animals Moby Dick She Keeps Me Up Take It Easy/Hotel California/Summer of '69 Rockstar We Stand Together Figured You Out How You Remind Me
Encore: Everlong Burn It to the Ground
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