Regardless of their breakthrough success two years ago, Nickelback erred on the side of caution when they were preparing the first tour in support of their new album, The Long Road.
Small Texas towns like Grand Prairie and Shiner were selected as the tour’s first testing grounds, and cool, fall evenings at medium-sized halls like Houston’s Verizon Wireless Theater (2,800 capacity) were chosen over summertime assaults at massive amphitheaters and arenas.
But somewhere between planning the tour itinerary and building a show that incorporated singles such as “How You Remind Me,” “Too Bad” and their latest hit, “Someday,” someone in the Nickelback camp got excited.
With five semis full of pyrotechnics, burning fire beds, hydraulic-powered drum kits and Broadway-like banks of multi-colored backlighting, Nickelback’s new tour is the best stadium show that doesn’t actually play any stadiums.
If the original intent for this tour was intimate-yet-powerful, the result for the sold-out audience at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Monday was akin to scoring stage-side seats for the most mammoth of rock shows.
“It is so good to be back on the road,” bellowed lanky lead singer Chad Kroeger. “Tonight we are definitely going to party.”
The 16-song, 90-minute visual pinwheel was consistent with Nickelback’s building thunderstorm-to-cloudburst guitar dramas. The oncoming stomp of military infantry over house speakers signaled the entrance of Kroeger, guitarist (and Chad’s brother) Mike Kroeger, bassist Ryan “Nik” Vikedal and drummer Ryan Peake onto a pitch-black stage.
What was expected was simply a bolder, more confident Nickelback, structuring refined loops of snare and strings around Kroeger’s perfectly modulated melodic growl.
The bonus was the eyebrow-singeing pyro-haze that came with it. Steel girders and towers running three stories into the sky cast light onto a crowd of young crowd surfers.
As the first racing notes of new album opener, “Flat on the Floor,” flew from Mike’s fingertips, a pool of fire shot up from behind the trio at the front of the stage. Peake, battering his tom-tom from behind his enclosed drum kit, emerged from the flames for an entrance that would make Kiss’ Peter Criss envious.
Nickelback take their share of potshots for a recorded sound that falls somewhere between the rally cries of Creed and the self-loathing chaos of grunge without really committing to either. As Kroeger sneered through the throat-blistering “Breathe” and “Leader of Men” from 2000’s The State and then fast-forwarded to the corrugated balladry of “Some Day,” the metal-influenced evolution of the Canadians became more clearly defined.
With breakthrough album Silver Side Up, the members of Nickelback took it upon themselves to make the follow-up to Metallica’s Black Album, something that the originators decided to forego. The Long Road indulges mainstream metal even more, but not necessarily with less satisfying results.
Standing center-stage while flashing a smile as bright as Matthew McConaughey’s, Chad flirted with the front row through the semi-automatic crunch of chords on “Figured You Out.” The young women there responded by hurling themselves toward him with outstretched palms.
There were some brief respites from the “more is more” spectacle that allowed the singer to put his controlled roar on display. The rest of Nickelback joined him for the acoustic departure “Hero,” Chad’s solo contribution to last year’s “Spider-Man” soundtrack.
The soft strum of relationship foreclosure that is “Should’ve Listened,” described by Kroeger as “a song women want men to pay attention to,” provided a glimpse of a more vulnerable frontman, backed by Kid Rock-flavored country-rock.
It was tough, however, to gear down to ballads following the cries of Mike’s Flying-V through thick smoke on “Woke Up This Morning,” or the rebounding bass and guitar interplay of “Hollywood.”
“Let’s put this f–er to bed and go drink,” Kroeger said, introducing the encore of “How You Remind Me.”
With a final push, the crowd offered a scream-along of Nickelback’s signature hit as worthy as any heard at a summer shed show. Nickelback may in fact pull off stuffing this elephant of a show into phone booths on this tour.
The band did get an assist from openers Three Days Grace and the fast-emerging Trapt in whipping Houstonians into a frenzy.
Showcasing songs from its year-old debut, Trapt impressed the crowd with songs like “Still Frame” and “Made of Glass.” Skilled and funky bass lines combined with singer Chris Brown’s heart-on-the-sleeve delivery made for a mixture of brash, adolescent confrontation and rain-soaked guitar marches in the mold of Bush and Creed.
Nickelback Set List From October 20 At Houston’s Verizon Wireless Theater: