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It’s interesting how things change in the world of rock and roll. Styles blend and change and blend again. Rock gets serious, metal lightens up, country gets tough.
Watching Nickelback pound out song after song from its seven-album discography in front of a sellout crowd at North Little Rock’s Alltel Arena Aug. 31 was a lesson in a successful blending of all three of these styles.
Country, you might say? Nickelback? Well, it’s the smallest piece in the mix for sure, and their heavy twin guitars and classic bass and drum rhythm section is all rock. They’ve been called “Metallica for girls” for a reason. Still, the traditional country themes of toughing things out and heartbreak are there. Sometimes it even feels like they could cut the distortion all together and the same songs would transform into radio-worthy country hits.
And if nothing else, the way much of country music these days has co-opted the tight-shirted, goateed and growly voiced frontman makes the comparison fair. In the case of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, the only thing really missing from that vague crossover frontman look is a cowboy hat.
Kroeger was maybe admitting as much when he told the crowd, “I’m a redneck.” Even if he is Canadian.
But this was a rock show, and it rocked — eventually. The crowd took a while to get juiced up as the three opening acts – Hinder, Chevelle and Hoobastank – struggled to light a fire under anyone’s rear and get the party started. Hinder frontman Austin Winkler even went so far as to remind the audience what a warm-up band is for, getting at least a smattering of shout-outs when the Oklahoma City-based band delivered “Lips of an Angel,” a hit off of their debut release, “Extreme Behavior.”
Nickelback, on the other hand, had no such problems. The band hit the stage and wasted no time smacking the crowd right over the head with a blast of pyrotechnics and the rousing opener “Animals,” a cut from the fuel for this tour, the album “All the Right Reasons.” Cannon blasts and 40-foot flames brought 12,751 screaming fans to their feet where they remained for the duration of the show. The band crushed, crooned and growled their way through at least a dozen more tough-sounding tunes on their growing list of top hits. This was the rock show these fans had shown up for and Nickelback definitely delivered the goods.
Little Rock’s enthusiasm for the band was not lost on Kroeger. “We’re definitely coming back here,” he said, after revealing his displeasure with a less receptive crowd at a recent show in Wichita Falls, Texas.
A few songs in, Kroeger led the band through “Photograph,” a recent chart topper that really demonstrates the earlier allusions to the crossover appeal of Nickelback’s music. The acoustically driven tale of nostalgia has made its mark, make no mistake. It seemed everyone in the crowd sang along, almost drowning out Kroeger, as a series of sentimental snapshots filled the large video screen suspended above the stage.
Besides a little medley from “Curb,” the band’s stylistically incohesive 1996 debut, the rest of the show was filled with the more consistent — some might even say formulaic — tunes from recent years, including another sing-along, “Someday,” the pounding anti-domestic violence ode “Never Again,” and “How You Remind Me,” a 9/11 tribute song from 2001’s “Silver Side Up” that Kroeger said “revived Nickelback.”
Just before leaving the stage and returning with a crowd-rousing encore of “Figured You Out” and “Rock Star,” the band closed the main set with “Side of a Bullet,” an unexpected audio-visual tribute to “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, the very metal ex-Pantera guitarist from Texas who lost his life when he took five bullets from an apparently disgruntled fan in late 2004.
“A very good friend of mine was shot on stage. We wrote a song about that night and put it on our album,” Kroeger said. “Give it up for Dimebag Darrell.”
Who knew? Such disparate acts, but something brings them together. It’s that tough thing, again. The tie that binds.
— Deborah Wheeler
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