Just before Nickelback launched last night into If Everyone Cared, a power ballad about change brought about not by the masses but by small groups and even solitary figures, lead singer Chad Kroeger gave thanks to Lexington medical crews that came to the swift aid of a crew member injured during the assembly of the band’s massive stage at Rupp Arena.
Then as the song unfolded, a huge video screen offered snapshots of the modern day heroes the lyrics envisioned – Nelson Mandela, Bono, the founders of Amnesty International – before finishing with a quote by Margaret Mead that outlined how the power of change doesn’t equate to a power of numbers.
OK. Hold the phone. We’re talking Nickelback, right? The same Canadian band that opened its hot-wired Rupp concert last night with a thick slab of electric raunch titled Something in Your Mouth? Evoking Margaret Mead? I might as well close up shop now, people. I have officially seen everything.
Such was the sense of surprise that dominated this three act bill – rounded out by the similarly tough knuckled Seether and Saving Abel. Like Nickelback, those bands seemed to have their hearts and heads in post grunge rock that bordered on metal. Yet the pop sensibilities were on generous display for the entire concert.
First, let us point out one welcome contradiction in the humanitarian heart Nickelback briefly revealed last night. The band may have chosen to spotlight a tune that empowered change brought on by modest size groups. But the numbers were clearly on the band’s side at Rupp.
The attendance for last night’s performance: a whopping 17,000. In Rupp Arena terms, ‘dems what you call Kenny Chesney numbers. And what a thrill it was to not only witness size a crowd of that size deliriously feeding off the energy of three bands but to find those acts obviously stunned by the enthusiasm being tossed their way. In short, it was a safe bet no one – not Rupp officials, not the band and certainly not me – ever expected Nickelback to pack the place.
As for the music, Kroeger and company succeeded in overcoming what may the chief criticism of the band’s music: that it all sounds the same. Last night, Nickelback divided its song catalogue to three categories. There were the metal-framed rockers of eternal adolescence (Figured You Out), the power ballads (Fly Away) and slices of pure pop that seemed to make up the bulk of the show, from the almost country-esque (well, modern country-esque) Photograph to a stuttering, electro-savvy single called Gotta Be Somebody that sounded like ‘80s-era ZZ Top.
All of this was set into motion on a stage that spit flames and fireworks, boasted mini light pods that bounced up and down from the stage ceiling like glowing orbs and a catwalk that led to a smaller second stage in the middle of the arena floor. Through it all, Kroger credibly played the role of a host that was enjoying the songs and stage tricks as much as the audience.
“You having fun?” he asked the crowd late in the program. “I’m having a (expletive) blast.”
If anything, South Africa’s Seether was an even sharper sounding unit. Maybe it was because all the bells and whistles of the Nickelback stage weren’t at its disposal. Maybe when compared to the Hollywood-friendly profile of Kroeger, Seether singer Shaun Morgan looked like a professional wrestler. Regardless, the band’s no-frills and thoroughly unglamorous 45 minute set was refreshingly generous and, at times, ingenious in the pop turf it toughed up.
There was, for instance, the wheezy funk that thundered under Fake It and the anthemic arena rock charge that ignited Rise Above This. Seether also sported an expert sense of humor as well with Morgan crammng exhausted and cynical Valentine’s Day sentiments into a cover of Careless Whisper that transformed the early ‘80s Wham! hit into a jagged, electric dirge.
The show opening Saving Abel boasted the evening’s best set of lungs in singer Jared Weeks. Too bad they were also exercised between songs in babbling that bordered on audience pandering.
Though more single-minded in stylistic intent than the headlining bands, Saving Abel’s tight guitar drive still yielded songs (New Tattoo and Out of My Face) that set the pace for the pop-fueled angst that would surface in abundance.