Review: Nickelback at Staples Center
Nickelback has no official connection to the big-screen version of “Rock of Ages,” but on Friday night at Staples Center, it was hard not to think of the just-opened movie musical -- a flashy-trashy dramatization of the 1980s hard-rock scene -- as the hugely popular Canadian group powered through a concert equally rooted in the values of a bygone era.
Nickelback formed in the wake of such early-’90s grunge acts as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, yet its biggest songs always have harked back further, to hairy-chested hits by the likes of Foreigner, Journey and Night Ranger; there may be no greater defender of the modern power ballad than Nickelback’s frontman, Chad Kroeger, whose platinum-plated bulwark includes material he’s co-written for Chris Daughtry.
At Staples, Kroeger and his bandmates delivered many of those big songs -- “Someday,” “Far Away,” “How You Remind Me,” each a top 10 single -- in a big show full of the kind of arena-rock spectacle Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe commoditized a quarter-century ago.
There were flamethrowers and T-shirt cannons and silhouettes of naked ladies; there were a pair of moving walkways that made Kroeger and guitarist Ryan Peake look like harried travelers at LAX. And of course there was a smaller secondary stage (which in this case descended from the venue’s ceiling) designed to provide a close-up glimpse of these otherwise-untouchable heroes.
The investment in tradition paid a time-honored dividend: During “Rockstar,” several women revealed their breasts to cameramen roving the crowd for just such an old-school sight.
Nickelback distinguished itself from its ’80s-era predecessors, however, by a lack of charisma visually exemplified by the musicians’ all-black wardrobes. (Compare that to the fur coats and leather trousers Tom Cruise dons in “Rock of Ages.”)
Kroeger sang forcefully throughout the 90-minute set, while his bandmates drove the music with road-honed intensity; in “Lullaby,” from last year’s “Here and Now,” they turned a delicate, Coldplay-style piano line into something gruffer and more manly.
But as performers, the members of Nickelback never lived up to -- or seemed all that interested in matching -- the outsize dimensions of their sound and their stagecraft; they were going through well-rehearsed motions with all the evident amusement of behind-the-scenes facilitators.
Kroeger was woefully short on wit too, which came as a disappointment given the pitch-perfect ear for comedy he demonstrated in songs like “Photograph”: “Look at this photograph / Every time I do it makes me laugh,” he sang, “How did our eyes get so red / And what the hell is on Joey’s head?”
Then again, “Photograph” is an outlier in Nickelback’s catalog; more typical is “Figured You Out,” in which Kroeger told a lover (if that’s the right word), “I like your pants around your feet.”
Even so, there’s room for ebullience in material this crude, as the club-rap duo LMFAO proved two weeks ago in its own over-the-top Staples Center show. In contrast with those merry pranksters, Nickelback only rarely made a life of rock-star indulgence seem like any fun.
Opening Friday’s show in a rather unlikely pairing, Bush revived the jagged post-grunge sound of its mid-’90s beginnings in songs from the band’s early hit records and from last year’s aptly titled reunion effort, “The Sea of Memories.” Like Nickelback, Bush employed all manner of arena-rock devices, including showy guitar solos by Chris Traynor and frontman Gavin Rossdale’s sprint through the cheap seats during a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
But Rossdale seemed determined also to indicate a difference in temperament between him and the headliners, as when he dedicated Bush’s 1995 hit “Glycerine” to “everyone we love -- especially our wives and especially our children.” It was a claim on maturity that said more about age than it did about rock.
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Nickelback performs not at Staples this past weekend, but rather during a halftime show at a football game in 2011 in Vancouver, Canada. Credit: Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press/ Associated Press.