Aftermath is of the mind that the best way to tackle something that is reviled or feared is to confront it head on. Like global terrorism, street gangs, or gingivitis, you must take it on at its source, even if doing so makes you feel insecure, vulnerable or wholly foolish. Maybe it's the military in us that pushes us to attempt things that others would cower at. Or maybe it's our continual drinking. For those reasons, and many others, Aftermath embedded ourselves into Nickelback Country Thursday night. Now to make it clear right off the bat to everyone, we were not swayed by the show last evening at a packed Toyota Center, which seemed to buckle deeper into the ground under all the silicone enhancement dotting the largely female crowd. This will not be an apologist recanting his dislike for Nickelback. If anything, the show last night served as confirmation.
Or alternately, remember being scared of the dark as a youngster, and then having your parents turn on the lights to show you that the monster in the corner was really just your backpack and a pile of socks? Last night's Nickelback show was just that. An affirmation to us that this thing that has become some sort of music-wide punching bag is nothing to be worried about. The only worry one should have is that it gets bigger. Live, Chad Kroeger comes off like a sassy blonde Joel Osteen with a nasty case of Tourette's and a mean sex addiction. Both border on sounding like a crude affectation. Kind of like the foreign exchange student from Brazil at my high school back in the day that always said "fuck" too much and leered at the pretty white cheerleaders to try to fit in. Nickelback's stage show reminds me of the rodeo or some sort of glossy awards show VH-1 would put on. The stage should be revolving, and all the flames and fireworks seem like some sort of pyrotechnic circle jerk, trying to shove every single hoary rock cliché on stage for nearly two hours.
Aftermath sat in his seat most of the time feeling like an atheist at a big tent revival, with Kroeger a swearing and haughty preacher, and Nickelback's songs acting as biblical passages we would understand but never empathize with. A song like "Figured You Out" with its oily come-ons about "dirt that's on your knees" and the "white stains on your dress," is 100% sexless. It's animalistic rape. There's no passion to it, just cheap buzzwords to be thrown at folks all too susceptible to duping. A nasty plague has come over the music world, in the form of the country cross-over. Nickelback takes their swing at this new phenomenon with "This Afternoon," which plays like a boring Kenny Chesney iTunes freebie MP3. "Rock Star" is played out in the middle of the crowd on a jutted-out stage, half acoustic and fully backed up by the adoring crowd. Billy Gibbons' spoken-word vocals from the song come over the PA system almost ghostly. Pictures of Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi and Jim Morrison are shown on a video screen about a two-hundred feet high.
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During "Rock Star" we spy a sugar daddy two rows up dancing with a girl who this time last year was more than likely picking out her prom dress. Her movements are gawky, and his hands ever so prying. The song has become a sort of anthem for suburban Joes stuck in the drive-thru line at Jack in the Box, wishing for something better than two tacos and a Dr Pepper. It's not Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" by a long shot. That song was rife with paranoia and doubt, covered in Peruvian dust. "Rock Star" is really about empowering people that will never get to see life from Nickelback's perch. It's just a shame that the "rock star" life that Nickelback is trying to ironically skewer is one that too many take seriously. There are cameras all over the crowd, showing fans in the grips of each song. Some are singing, eyes shut intensely; others are shaking fists and chests like Taliban waving AKs in the air. Aftermath can't tell for the life of them if this is to make the concert an interactive experience or to scope out some titty.
Or worse, it's merely a way for the scraggly and gaunt Kroeger to look big n' tuff. A gaggle of T-shirt cannons comes out between "Rock Star" and "Burn It to the Ground," adding to the show's already sports-like quality. Yesterday on this blog we posed a question asking why the world thinks this band sucks, when they are seemingly immensely popular and make millions of dollars playing these questionable songs. Last night we didn't quite get the answer we had been looking for, but we did reach a conclusion that may be the best one yet. People don't hate Nickelback's music per se, because that kind of stuff surrounds us everywhere we go. It's not even that Kroeger is a perverted ham who brags about bong hits and boobies. Nickelback's detractors, in fact, just hate Nickelback's fans. If one were to look out into the crowd last night, they would grimace at the Affliction shirts and spray-tans and silver chains that lumbered in the crowd, double-fisting Budweisers with new shirts tucked into their back pockets. Their simple and irony-free love of a corny band like Nickelback is just a side issue. Hating Nickelback isn't a music snob thing, it's quite honestly a difference in social class that will never be resolved until two decades pass and Nickelback fades into the vast fields of irony that sit adjacent to Journey and REO Speedwagon, and Kroeger lands on VH1 chubby and gray-haired, ogling prospective wives.