The band was a moderate success, but it was their singer’s association with one of the biggest superhero movies of all time that would catapult them to superstardom. Frontman Chad Kroeger teamed up with Josey Scott, the vocalist from the similarly-maligned-yet-less-successful rock band Saliva, to record the track “Hero.” The song was featured on the soundtrack for 2004’s Spiderman 2, which ultimately grossed $787 million worldwide. The accompanying exposure led to the song peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and dominating Top 40 radio station playlists for the majority of the summer.
Since then, Nickelback has churned out radio-friendly rock hits at a startlingly consistent rate, to the tune of 21 million records sold in the United States alone, and over 50 million worldwide since 1996. Their status as icons in pop culture extends past just mainstream radio, as their song “Burn it to the Ground” is featured as the opening theme song to WWE Monday Night Raw and was included in the video game Rock Band.
One could argue all their exposure has done just as much to promote the band’s image has it has to dilute it. While business is good, Nickelback seems to have assumed the role of “most despised band” which was vacated upon the breakup of Creed. A simple search of the band’s name on Twitter invites hundreds of contempt-filled statements, including comparisons to car crashes and idle threats of breaking the radio – all made within 30 minutes of my initial search.
So which is it? Personally, I have a pretty good idea as to why people don’t like Nickelback. I wanted to know what the other side saw; the side that made the band into the CD-selling juggernauts who are invited to play at the NHL All Star Game. That opportunity presented itself as Nickelback, along with late-90s alternative darlings Bush, were the latest to grace the stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center July 24.
Opening the show as previously mentioned was the English grunge act, Bush. The band is now mainly a vehicle for handsome lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Gavin Rossdale, as the rest of the band had only been playing together since 2010, or about 13 years since Bush’s heyday. The band played a mixture of songs from their debut album Sixteen Stone, including “Machinehead” and “Everything Zen.”
At one point during their set I found it strange that Rossdale had put down his guitar and was only providing the vocals, which I’d never seen him do. It made much more sense, as he then took off running down the aisles at SPAC, out and around to the lawn, where he doubled back and ran across the balcony – all while singing the song. They followed this up with a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” which was mainly sang by the audience as Rossdale’s microphone had seemed to stop working midway through his jaunt around the amphitheatre.
The band closed with Rossdale onstage alone playing their biggest song, the tragic-yet-peaceful “Glycerine,” before closing with their first single, “Come Down.”
Finally, it was time for the main event. Nickelback, to their credit, had one of the more elaborate stage setups of any concert I’ve attended at SPAC. The band came out and played in front of a massive LED screen and detonated more than enough pyrotechnics, almost like you’d see at a WWE event. Kroeger and his bandmates might put some people off by taking their job description as “rock stars“ a bit too seriously, but at the very least, their stage presence was lively and fun.
There were moments that certainly grated on me. Kroeger’s insistence on not only taking shots of liquor between every song, but talking about how cool it made him just came off as juvenile. His interaction with his fans bordered on patronizing, as if they should have felt really special to get singled out by Chad Kroeger at a Nickelback concert. Kroeger’s glorification of alcohol went so far as to dedicate their anthem to blacking out, “Bottles Up,” to a boy in the audience celebrating his 13th birthday.
At one point, before they played their hit song “Photograph,” Kroeger left the stage to play the song on a riser about 15 feet above the rest of the band for some reason. Couple that with the giant video board behind them projecting the image of giant, spinning, golden factory gears behind them and I sat in bewilderment as the rest of the crowd went berserk.
If you were a fan of Nickelback, I guarantee you were absolutely thrilled with their performance. While Kroeger might be off-putting to some, it’s clear that the band’s popularity is not an accident. People were streaming toward merchandise booths, where merchants were selling $35 T-shirts by the box load. At the end of the day, the band packed one of the finer venues in the area and made a lot of money in the process. I’m sure that makes it a lot easier to deal with their detractors.