Is Nickelback Really As Bad As Everyone Says?
Or is it time we cut the Canadian hard rock pariahs some slack and fight the real enemy: their tour opener, Brantley Gilbert?
11:15 AM CDT on August 8, 2023
Nickelback is the worst band in the world.
At least that’s what the internet would have you believe. The Canadian buttrockers have become the butt of countless jokes and memes. It’s almost a universally acknowledged truth that they suck. In these fractious times, dunking on Nickelback is one of the few things that unites everyone. Frontman Chad Kroeger has even addressed the hate, saying that it’s likely just due to overexposure.
For true haters, the worst thing that happened on September 11, 2001, was the release of Nickelback’s massively successful breakthrough album, Silver Side Up. But I’ll admit, I had a copy, and I sincerely remember enjoying it quite a bit at the time. (I was twelve, so don’t judge me too harshly.) Silver Side Up peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 and went Platinum six times. (Not even every critic hated Nickelback—15 of ’em voted for ”How You Remind Me” in the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop singles poll, landing that hit at an almost respectable 39th place.) How could a band with that much commercial success become so universally loathed just a few years later? Are they really that bad? Or has the internet simply done what it does best and blown this joke way out of proportion?
Nickelback is currently in the middle of their massive 38-date Get Rollin’ tour, which draws around 15,000 Nickelback fans (or Refunds as they’re collectively known) each night, so surely there’s something likable about this band. With that belief in my heart, I went to the Xcel last night to see for myself.
The show began on a high note with the first opening act, Josh Ross. The rising country star has already racked up several award nominations and charted singles in his native Canada, with his sights now set on the Nashville scene. Throughout his 30-minute set, Ross delivered his personal flavor of radio country along with an excellent cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.”
Ross came across as polite, friendly, and immensely grateful to everyone who got there in time to see him. "As a new artist, it's really freakin' cool to have this many people here early on a freakin' Monday,” he said. His polished and mild-mannered demeanor stood in stark contrast to the rest of the night’s performers, particularly the brash, dick-headed second act, Brantley Gilbert.
I don’t say this lightly, but Gilbert’s performance on Monday was the single worst hour of music I have ever endured—and remember, I’ve seen Sabaton. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for artists blurring genres to make their own unique sound. But Gilbert somehow manages to combine the worst parts about bro-country with the worst parts of hard rock into something even worse than the sum of its very bad parts. I literally spent the morning dealing with food poisoning, and Gilbert's set was still somehow the worst part of my day.
Gilbert rapped about dirt roads. He talked about how we live in a society where not enough people get punched in the face anymore (a pretty bold statement from someone with the most punchable face I’ve personally ever seen). He gave multiple shoutouts to Jason Aldean and said there are “things going on in our society that I don’t understand, and I don’t fuckin’ want to understand them neither.” He rapped about being the son of the Dirty South. Finally, because the very concept of irony is long dead and buried in the year of our lord 2023, he ended his set with a few bars of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name.”
One thing Gilbert does have going for him is that he’s clearly figured out how to successfully market his fear-mongering bullshit to a fanatical fanbase (maybe there’s a GOP nomination in his future). His fans sure did love his godawful set, and he had every soul patch in the seven-county metro area who believes “America good. Guns good. ‘Other’ people bad” eating from the palm of his hand. At least we didn’t have to see the Second Amendment tattoo that covers his entire back. With any luck, we’ll someday read that Brantley Gilbert accidentally shot his own dick off.
After that, the night could only get better, and Nickelback came out strong, kicking things off with “San Quentin,” the lead single from 2022’s Get Rollin’. “San Quentin,” which is on the heavier side for Nickelback, amped up their ravenous fans—and when I say ravenous, I mean completely feral. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a crowd collectively lose its mind the way last night’s Nickelback fans did. People were screaming along to every banal lyric. Some even shed tears during “Photograph.”
After “San Quentin” came a block of songs from 2005’s All the Right Reasons. The band sounded tight (and considering they’ve been playing these songs for almost two decades, they'd better). Chad Kroeger sounded a lot like Chad Kroeger. A massive screen showed the band and the crowd and a very corny video of a police chase throughout the night. The explosions were earsplitting, and there was almost as much fire as at a Rammstein show. Like 'em or not, Nickelback put on one hell of a show. For the first few songs.
And then Kroeger, who these days looks like a wax sculpture of David Duchovny, started talking.
Before “Figured You Out,” Kroeger proudly stated, “if we released this song today, we’d be canceled immediately. But they’ve been trying to cancel us for 25 fucking years and haven’t been able to yet.” (NOTE: It’s not “canceling” if people just hate your corny-ass band. Also, they could definitely still release a song like “Figured You Out” today because no one would ever hear it but Nickelback fans.)
Kroeger continued, “But thankfully, we’re in a room full of people who don’t get their feelings hurt every 30 seconds.”
After “Figured You Out,” Kroeger noticed a padded sticky bra someone threw onstage. Sticking it on his chest, he proclaimed that it was “the equivalent of a dude stuffing a huge sausage down his pants. It’s false advertising!”
By this point, Kroeger’s voice was completely blown out, and he sounded disturbingly like the Crypt Keeper when he sang. This has been an ongoing issue on this tour; Kroeger had to stop and restart a song just last week. Guitarist Ryan Peake stepped in to help pick up some of the vocal slack, but Kroeger’s real saving grace was the thousands of voices screaming along.
The brightest spot in Nickelback’s set came during “Rockstar,” one of their most unlistenable songs. They chose one lucky fan from the crowd to join them onstage and sing the entire song. Hayden (or “blue shirt guy” as Peake and Kroeger referred to him) gave by far the best vocal performance of Nickelback’s set and was clearly having the time of his life. Unfortunately, this “Rockstar” moment wasn’t like the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name, and Hayden did not replace Chad Kroeger as Nickelback’s frontman.
Perhaps the oddest moment of the night was when Nickelback brought out both openers for a cover of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road.” It takes a lot to make an Earle song sound terrible, but Nickelback and Brantley Gilbert excelled at it. There was something extra weird about watching culture war poster boy Brantley Gilbert “singing” a song by a noted socialist who Gilbert would likely call a “cuck” in the real world. But again. Irony. Dead and buried. At least he didn’t rap.
I went into this show rooting for Nickelback. I wanted them to prove the internet wrong. And for the first few songs, I thought they were going to pull out a win. But between the awkward, awful banter and Kroeger’s ongoing vocal problems, things rapidly went off the rails. But, no, I don’t think they’re the worst band in the world. They know how to write a massive hooky chorus. “Hero” and “How You Remind Me” still go pretty hard if you ask me, while songs like “Far Away” and “Someday” show that Kroeger can write lyrics with some substance.
Besides, how can Nickelback be the worst band in the world when Brantley Gilbert exists?
San QuentinSavin’ MeFar AwayAnimalsSomedayWorthy to SayFigured You OutHero (Chad Kroeger cover)Copperhead Road (Steve Earle cover)High TimePhotographRockstarThose DaysHow You Remind Me
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