Nickelback Review at Ottawa Bluesfest

Review: Jay McConnery
Photos: David Barrett

Nickelback - Ottawa Bluesfest 07-09-2012Sometimes live music gives us the opportunity to experience something that is totally unfathomable to others. Sometimes we are able to shuffle softly in our own shoes, participating in something beautiful and personal, like some great unknown caressing the soul and senses. Communicative music, speaking to your inner-self, instilling sensations of warm glow-worm bellies, lighting up with soft smiles with gentle hopeful comfort, through sublime rhythms. Sometimes music can give you an ethereal understanding.. and I know that this comfort is achieved differently, for different people, even Nickelback fans. Sometimes, you need to draw yourself out a little bit to appreciate something that is beautiful to a great many other people, no matter how crude and borderline ridiculous it might seem to you. In the context of tonight's performance review, I don't know that I will succeed- but I did walk through the warm sunny gates of The Ottawa Bluesfest fully aware that the Nickelback's music had no appeal to me, yet still approached the festivities with an open mind, intending to not pre-judge everything too cynically.

Monday is typically an off-day for Bluesfest; but this year the main festival plaza was opened to host Nickelback, I Mother Earth, and a few other bands that I would usually qualify as second rate cock-rock, playing the two Main stages. The concert pitch was relatively busy and populated with a demographic that I'm not accustomed to, let alone in a concert setting. Perhaps they could be called the Sears crowd, maybe Suburb-dwellers, I'm not sure, but it was truly odd to walk the grounds and not recognize a single person. Is this how polarizing this music is- that of all the music lovers I know, not one is here to check out Canada's most successful band? I think, just maybe it is. I think maybe a true fan of music must reject it... but not tonight.

First stop was to grab a beer, and although there was no one in line I had to let the beer staff finish joking about how much Nickelback sucks before I could get my hot paws on a frosty Tankhouse. I was able to avoid joining them in their jovial hatred, and kind of surprised myself that I didn't need to mention my 'hater-status' to these strangers. I guess I realized right then that I don't care if someone thinks I like Nickelback- which it turns out is kind of a lovely feeling.

We missed the evenings other Can Con success story 'I Mother Earth' and began the music viewing at the Claridge stage with the thumping JayZ pre-show track setting the stage for Florida's 'Shinedown'. They emerged one-by-one on the ramped-up high tech stage, playing with a backing track which added some textured guitar playing and effects suggesting a depth that was not present. It seemed like a 'volume over substance' type situation off the bat and the band followed suit with lots of strutting and corny stage moves. They had a stylized modern rock visual that was quite the production, but not for a minute was any of the music catchy or interesting, which you would think would be a minimum requirement. They kept the volume high, and the jumping and fist pumping instructions flowing so it looked like a real rock show. It wasn't though... it smelled more like laundry than cigarettes. 

I jockeyed for a decent spot from which to check out Nickelback, and while putting back a few beers, I noticed several families gathering together in their 45.00 concert shirts, groups of saucy 30-something women taking photographs of each other and dozens of people eating 'tornado fries' (which is essentially a tall plate of chip cut fries covered in cheese and ranch sauce), and of course enthusiastic teenagers squeezing forward to get a good viewpoint to check out the band, smoking first cigarettes. The intro music was ACDC's Back in Black, and it was surprising how everyone was reacting and singing along as if ACDC themselves were on stage, it was kind of infectious. When Nickeback stepped out, to wild applause and thunderous pyro-techniques, it was clear this was going to be a rock show.

Conversing with the crowd comfortably and regularly, frontman Chad Kroeger (sadly without his trademark Poodle-cut) led the band out of the gates with guns blazing and didn't really let up except to change guitars or offer a brief word about the next tune. I lasted about 8 tunes which I felt was fair. They are a good band - no doubt. Great players and it's clear Chad can sing in 'that' voice anytime. I learned earlier in the week that they have their pedals and effects offstage being handled by a techie throughout the show (even the wah wah!)- and although I thought that was an unforgiveable piece of news at the time, I kind of understood it watching them.

It's practically a stage show, and there in no room for error. There is a tremendous amount of moving and jumping around the huge stage, striking poses and making various types of eye contact with the crowd. They are busy up there, and I think the massiveness of their success maybe comes in part from relating to their audience even from 20 feet away when on these stages. But moreso of course, because they also write songs that meaningful to their audience, and that was also clear this evening. I watched a young couple serenade each other during 'Photograph' practically in tears, reminicing of good times past. I saw a slew of past-their-prime-80s chicks celebrate their credo in 'Rockstar' eyes closed and arms raised. These things felt very real and meaningful. I can't say I was comfortable watching a young girl bounce on her father's shoulders as they belted the lyrics to 'Something in your mouth', but what do I care. 

I don't live here.