Dispatches From the Front

In order to better bring you more complete coverage of all things music we here at Power Chord are willing to send our intrepid correspondents into the most volatile hot zones known to man. They say they like to live dangerously and we are more than willing to see them prove it. This time out we sent King to that most controversial of musical experiences. No, not a Ted Nugent concert in Berkeley, not a Kanye West show in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even more extreme. We sent him to a Nickelback concert in Spokane, Washington. Call us cruel but he said he was up to the challenge. Here is his report.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on Nickelback, the Canadian rock band fronted by Chad Kroeger, to the point where opponents of the president are seen holding signs stating that he likes them. That appears to be the worst thing they can imagine. I was wondering why all the bile against this one band so I suggested that Power Chord send me to a Nickelback show to see for myself. At the time I thought it was funny how quickly they agreed. Usually, it is like pulling teeth to get an out of town assignment cleared. Once approved, I started to do some research. A Google search of “why does everyone hate on Nickelback” returned 736,000 results in 0.86 seconds. Obviously many people have given this some thought. I could go on for pages and pages about why people don’t like Nickelback but a quick consensus is that they don’t feel that Nickelback are a legitimate, authentic rock band. “Legitimate” meaning the context of their music? To some this means following their muse, regardless of commercial appeal. But to others if the artist has no impact on the market they are irrelevant. Fans of Bob Dylan may be aghast at the mere mention of, say, Fifth Harmony but to people who enjoy the sound and entertainment value of Fifth Harmony the “value” of Bob Dylan’s social commentary is of no interest. Everything about art is relative. My quick scan revealed that what people don’t like about Nickelback is what their perceived predictability is. That, in essence, their music is a calculated business decision rather than a musical statement. Interpreting “art” inherently always leads to disagreement, but the hate thrown at Nickelback seems a bit extreme. As a music fan I am uneasy with others deciding for me what is “legit” and what is not, shouldn’t this be a personal interpretation? I mean, isn’t AC/DC predictable? Kanye West? Mozart?

In the interest of full disclosure, I first became aware of Nickelback in 2000 when I saw the video for “Leader of Men” on MTV. I liked it. Nice bass line, quiet start building to a loud ending, interesting double tracked vocal. After that it was impossible to miss them when they came on the radio so I was aware of their increasing popularity. I tend to like hard edged guitar music (I’m listening to Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell on Spotify as I write this) and Nickelback tends to have a couple of those type songs on each of their 9 albums, along with the prerequisite ballad and a “party” song. So I figured I would get to see some good, cranking guitar songs when I saw them, after all, I’m on Power Chord’s dime right?

So Power Chord covers my travel and buys me a ticket to see Nickelback in Spokane, Washington. First off, it is about 100 degrees and the air is full of smoke from the multiple forest fires in Washington and British Columbia. It’s what Neil Diamond would call a “Hot August Night”. I get to the arena and find my seat. It is all the way in the back of the hall. Thanks Power Chord, no pit pass, no VIP section, you got me the cheapest seat you could (We thought that was pretty funny ourselves-PCTV). OK, no worries, I’m on assignment, I can handle it. The place is full, an even mix of older rockers and younger fans, but not families like at a Kiss or Def Leppard concert. The opening act was Daughtry, a guy who was on American Idol a while ago. Apparently he has opened for Nickelback seven times (!). I have to say Daughtry didn’t impress me. They played well (even covering a Metallica song), sang their hearts out and the audience was appreciative but to me it seemed thin. The note I wrote during their show was “it’s like lite beer married Styrofoam and had a baby”. Serviceable but not very deep, at least to me. The crowd seemed to like them and they were nice enough. But to me less filling and not very satisfying.

After intermission Nickelback came out and played 18 songs over the course of two hours. Did they suck as bad as the haters would have you think? Did they live up to the hype their multitude of fans extol? For me the answer was complicated. Nickelback puts on a pretty decent show. The sound was good, the lights were great (reminded me of a Pink Floyd light rig) and the 12,000 or so fans had a great time based on their cheering and dancing, but for me it seemed “optimally safe”. What do I mean by safe? I mean that there really were no surprises, it was what their fans would be expected from them, even if they had some fans come up and sing “Rockstar” with them and invited 12 year old Jonah Rocks on stage to do a drum solo (he was pretty good). They didn’t seem to want to do anything that would surprise or heaven forbid, offend the crowd (although they had the girl’s wildly singing along to “Something in Your Mouth”.) They played their songs well, their between song repartee/banter was amusing and they left the crowd happy. So??? What’s not to like? But this just isn’t enough for me, when I go to a show I want something transcendent, I want it to grab me emotionally. I want to remember it for the rest of my life and I surely didn’t get that at this show. I have seen hundreds of shows and can count the ones that just didn’t do it for me on one hand.

Sometimes the band isn’t in top form and sometimes, like with Nickelback, they just don’t grab me emotionally. The crowd sang along to all the hits and had a great time. By all indications it was a good show. But to me it could have been better.

The musical landscape has changed and Nickelback are a product of the present, they are making music for the present, and it is a different musical landscape than it was even 10 years ago. I feel that the issue has more to do with my expectations, from years of going to concerts, than with the bands I go to see. I saw more selfies being taken than air guitar being “played”. As for my hope to see some of their more aggressive songs? It didn’t really happen, they did play “Animals”, a song I like, but stuck pretty close to what was popular on the radio, ALL the hits (Photograph, How You Remind Me, etc.), they did a pretty good job covering “Hotel California”, but they only cut loose on the last track they played, “Burn It to the Ground”… Good guitar playing but not enough to do it for me!

So, as I was walking out of the arena into the hot, smoky Spokane night I was trying to encapsulate what I had witnessed (and what I would write). Were Nickelback deserving of the hate? No. Did I enjoy the show? Not as much as I would have liked. I’m glad I went, but the memory I will have will be of the light show, not the music. In the end I was left with that same sensation as when you drink lite beer. You know it’s beer but it’s thin and lacking in character and you really wish you were drinking a nice import or microbrew.

That’s my dispatch from seeing Nickelback. If you were there, or at any other Nickelback show let us know what you think. I’d really like to know what it is you like or don’t like about them. And if you could petition Power Chord to send me to Europe to cover a show I would appreciate it, after all, the beer is better there.