Over the last 25 years, it’s probably not unfair to say that Canadian rockers NICKELBACK have been one of the most consistently divisive bands in rock music. Loved by a devoted fanbase, yet frequently the punchlines of many a joke both online and in the media, the band have managed to eke out a two-decade-long career, with much chart success along the way. Now touring their eighth studio album, No Fixed Address, we caught the band in Manchester to see whether all that bile is deserved or not.
First up are fellow Canadian four-piece MONSTER TRUCK, who deliver a strong set of driving southern-rock. Vocalist/bassist Jon Harvey quickly endears himself to the moderate crowd assembled, gleefully bantering with the front few rows in an attempt to draw stronger reactions. Now with several EPs and two studio albums (including this year’s Sittin’ Heavy) to their name, the band have a wealth of great material to draw from – ensuring the atmosphere is consistent throughout their set. With a sound somewhere between CLUTCH and a rowdier QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, it’s difficult not to find yourself grooving along to the likes of Why Are You Not Rocking? and New Soul – such is the nature of MONSTER TRUCK’s enthralling sound. A mid-set lull does seem to kill the band’s momentum slightly, but a cameo from NICKELBACK guitarist on For The People serves to reignite the band’s spark well, and as they band finish on a triumphant runthrough of The Lion, it’s obvious that MONSTER TRUCK have done what they set out to do.
If there’s one thing that’s simply undeniable about NICKELBACK, it’s the amount of utterly massive songs they have in their arsenal. Kicking off with Edge Of A Revolution, the Alberta quartet are evidently in full arena-conquering mode from the get-go. Frontman Chad Kroeger seems especially strong tonight, a walking embodiment of natural charisma, his vocals tonight even possessing somewhat of a harder edge compared to on record. Of course, this is immediately followed up with the first of many colossal hits to come tonight, in the form of the gleefully dirty Something In Your Mouth. It’s actually this kind of thing where NICKELBACK now seem to be most at home – the hard-rock of numbers like Animals sounding a lot more convincing than the band’s sappier ballads on this occasion. That said, it’s still near-impossible to argue with the atmosphere that accompanies a packed out arena belting out anthems like Photograph, Kroeger’s solo track Hero and the pretty much obligatory Rockstar. The latter sees a pair of fans brought onto the stage to sing-along, and despite being as much of a car crash as you can imagine, the gesture remains endearing and entertaining. The audience laps it up throughout, as you’d expect – Kroeger frequently stops just to take it all in, and never once seems to stop smirking. His stage banter is impressively fun too, as he alternates between jokingly berating a hungover roadie in charge of bringing the band drinks, and being bemused by the front row fan clutching a “Chad’s a DILF” sign (“I don’t even have fucking kids” comes the exasperated response). Even his band introductions are laden with laughs – drummer Daniel Adair in particular, is pretty much introduced as the group’s pretty-boy in a blatant crowd-pleaser move. What comes across perhaps best in tonight’s performance though is just how much of a well-oiled live unit NICKELBACK are. Every song, from the lovelorn Trying Not To Love You, to the grungey Woke Up This Morning, feel effortlessly fluid and well-rehearsed in their delivery, leaving the band more time to interact with their adoring fans. That’s not to say everything goes 100% smoothly though – ballad Lullaby is nearly interrupted as a fan seems to charge the stage from the side and lunges for Kroeger’s leg, before being accosted by a small army’s worth of security, but the band themselves barely miss a beat and it seems to go unnoticed or ignored by the majority of the crowd. Eventually, as the show begins to reach its climax, there’s only one real choice for a set closer. How You Remind Me was arguably the song that first brought NICKELBACK worldwide fame, and it remains just as potent a track as it was when it came out, some 15 years ago. Seeing a packed-out arena bellowing every word only serves to hammer this notion home, and it’s nigh-on impossible not to find yourself joining in within seconds, along with a chorus of some 21,000 other fans.
There’s still a bit of time left though, and the band soon return for the expected encore. Surprisingly enough though, they launch into not one of their own tracks, but a cover of FOO FIGHTERS’ monstrously catchy Everlong, with Peake taking the lead vocal role in a surprisingly impressive turn. It’s immediately followed by what turns out to be the final track of the evening – the fist-pumping crowd pleaser that is Burn It To The Ground. Arguably one of the harder-edged track’s in NICKELBACK’s arsenal, it’s a perfect way to cap off what has been an unexpectedly powerful and heavy set from the Canadian rock-radio-favourites. It’s difficult to dispute that tonight will have converted many naysayers over to NICKELBACK’s cause, but their performance tonight has certainly been an impressive one, proving that this is a band who will likely continue to grow for many years to come yet.