Ecstatic fans buy into a fired-up Nickelback


At GM Place on Friday, January 20

During the pre-game warm-up for the January 5 World Junior gold-medal finale at GM Place, Hockey Canada staffers were seen banging their heads to Nickelback's cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting". Fifteen days later, the venue was the same, but this time, fans gathered to celebrate the hard-as-vulcanized-rubber live sound that the Alberta-bred, Vancouver-based rock quartet dishes out nowadays. For suds-swilling Surrey dudes and blond, midriff-baring hotties alike, the product was just as golden.

The 90-minute headlining show was designed for a hockey arena. This theory was driven home by Canucks centre Brendan Morrison making a pre-gig appearance on-stage with CFOX's Jeff O'Neill, and Nickelback roadies firing merchandise into the crowd, much like Fin, the local NHL team's mascot. Beyond that, the band must have also learned something from opening for a pyro-crazed KISS at BC Place Stadium on New Year's Eve '99: it used more flashpots and explosions than most of the countries in the annual English Bay fireworks competition.

Chad Kroeger's singing was even rawer than usual on the first number, "Animals", a raunchy salute to teenage abandon whose vibe merged U2's "Vertigo" with Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine". Lead guitarist Ryan Peake added consistent vocal harmonies, and the group deserves credit for not using backing tracks to augment its sound like many other stadium rockers.

On this night, Kroeger was selling, and his ecstatic fans were buying. The curly-haired 31-year-old frontman bellowed, "How many of you out there have our new album?" and then launched straight into "Photograph", the hit ballad that anchors that 2005 disc's All the Right Reasons. He emphasized his love of Vancouver and optimistically asserted that while poor Uncle George shovels snow back East, locals are dirt-biking, tanning at Wreck Beach, and sampling high-quality B.C. bud.

Kroeger eulogized Dimebag Darrell, the murdered ex-Pantera guitarist, before kicking into an unforgiving riff fest called "Side of a Bullet", and this was one heartfelt episode that didn't feel exploitive. Mostly, the other Nickelback members weren't as noticeable. But Kroeger's brother Mike laid down a solid, galloping bass groove on "Breathe", and skinsman Daniel Adair (ex-3 Doors Down) displayed bursts of virtuosity as well as metronomic precision in his obligatory drum solo.

The 15-song set list included six tracks from All the Right Reasons, and the multiplatinum group seemed eager to shed its original post-grunge image. Even "How You Remind Me", 2002's most-played radio song, didn't rile the crowd up quite as much as certain newer ditties. Thinking big, from the video screens to the sing-along choruses, Nickelback is on track for record first-quarter profits.

Danko Jones opened with 30 minutes of AC/DC-influenced rawk, and the Toronto power trio might have gained some new fans. One highlight was the infectious refrain of "First Date", the lead single from the band's upcoming album, Sleep Is the Enemy. New drummer Dan Cornelius fit in seamlessly.

Second-billed was Live, whose career peaked with 1994's Throwing Copper, and the Pennsylvania band shouldn't have played for an hour. After emotive readings of "Selling the Drama" and "Lightning Crashes", there was too much of the mellow droning that hampered many '90s bands. Even frontman Ed Kowalczyk's drama-tinged vocals and shirtless dancing couldn't keep this performance out of the bronze-medal position.