Nickelback, Pop Evil Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion April Fools Day, 2015
Seeing a rock band live is a great barometer of where they are in their career. Did the venue size from their last tour go up or down? How many songs from the new album are they playing? How much do they talk between songs? Are they still selling GA tickets up front or have they switched over to seats?
The answers to these questions let you know where a rock band is on the arc of their career. It's how you separate the bands that are in their prime, trying to hold on to their chunk of the spotlight or are making the crossover to legacy act.
Which leads us in to a discussion of Nickelback, a band that seemingly everyone has an opinion on, mostly negative. It's been almost three years since they were last in the Bayou City, making a lot of noise over at the Toyota Center. How much of a difference do three years make?
Rejoice! At worst (best?), Nickelback are heading into a decline. At best (worst?), they're becoming a classic-rock act. This is good news for fans and haters alike.
A Nickelback show is just rotten with chatter. Chad Kroeger, a man who at least has a sense of humor about himself, flaps his gums between every song without fail. Sometimes he panders to the audience. Sometimes he takes a shot. Sometimes he tries to pump up the crowd.
It stretches what could be a tight hour-and-a-half show in to a two-hour slog. Seriously, we know your tricks, you don't really need to change guitars every song. Cut out some of the chatter and play "Leader of Men." There was, hard as it may be to believe, life before "How You Remind Me."
This endless chatter is symbolic of something bigger. This show felt very different from their last visit to town. Things were noticeably scaled back. The venue: smaller. The stage production: smaller. General admission: only on the lawn.
In fairness, playing the Pavilion is nothing to be ashamed of. To get a pretty packed crowd in on a Wednesday night is nothing to sneeze at. To have that crowd in the palm of your hands...OK, that's not particularly complicated.
Nickelback know what works when it comes to putting on a show. They know what their audience wants. You keep things simple and play the hits, sneaking in the catchier numbers from your new album when possible. You sprinkle in snippets of cover songs to show you know how to have a good time and aren't completely full of yourself. You throw beer into the crowd in between doing Jagerbombs onstage.
You have a schtick and you stick to it.
And it works. But is it interesting? Is it engaging? Does it create catharsis?
Those are questions that do not matter at a Nickelback concert.
Story continues on the next page.
Call me a condescending snob -- albeit one who loves "How You Remind Me" -- but there comes a point in time where most bands, if they're choosing to stay out on the road 20 years deep into a career, give in to the nostalgia trip, and at that point there's no new insight to gain from seeing them live.
And that's OK. There's room for fluff in every music fan's diet.
I've never understood why people hate Nickelback. I completely understand why people would dislike their music, but I've never understood the amount of vitriol they receive. I can't knock their hustle. They found a formula that works and, if we're being honest, I wish a lot more bands out there would stay in their lanes instead of trying to push boundaries they're not talented enough to tackle.
We're talking about a band that is literally harmless now. They're riding the good vibes and good money that come with keeping it simple and dependable and a little bit boring, just like half the acts coming through The Woodlands this summer. They're the ghost of Summer Future, a tease of what Jimmy Buffett and Def Leppard are going to be like in a few months.
Fun shows that are ultimately fluff. How can you hate fluff?
Rejoice! At least you'll be able to make your Nickelback jokes every other summer.
So, How was the Opener?: Pop Evil may actually be the most generic modern-rock band in existence and that's OK. Not every band has to be The Arcade Fire or Radiohead. They do what they do and it's listenable enough and they'll have a fine career playing the Scout Bar circuit down the line. Their drummer is very entertaining. Their singer's outfit screamed "trying too hard."
Personal Bias: "Everlong" is my second-favorite song of all time. My head tells me that Nickelback covering it is heretical. But I still sang along when they did, because Lord knows the Foo Fighters are never coming back to town.
The Crowd: No matter what they sing, they really don't want change and they are ill-prepared for a revolution. Also, they may know how to throw up the devil horns but most of them don't know the lyrics to "Walk" and that's criminal in this state.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Freebird!" yelled one drunk nearby when the band started talking about playing Eagles' biggest hit. He wasn't trying to be funny. He shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets.
Random Notebook Dump: In between bands they show trailers for the upcoming shows headed to the Pavilion. One of the trailers was for the upcoming Bryan Adams show and I found myself wondering if there's really a huge demand for a Reckless anniversary show. About an hour or so later Nickelback played a bit of "Summer of '69" and the crowd lost their damn minds. So maybe there is.
Random Notebook Dump No. 2: Which music video cameo is more embarrassing: Lupe Fiasco in Nickelback's "Rockstar" or Kanye West in Hoobastank's "Same Direction"?
Like what you read? Or are we missing something? We'd love for you to join our team.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!