Times have changed for Nickelback. Over the course of 23 years, the rock band from Alberta, Canada, has sold nearly 25 million albums in the U.S. and become one of the most commercially successful bands in rock history. It has also become a whipping boy and punching bag within a music world that resents the band’s success. That resentment peaked in 2010, when Nickelback was the target of a Facebook contest: Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback? The pickle won.
Sunday night, Nickelback headlined a show at Starlight Theatre, its ninth show in Kansas City since 2000, but its first appearance in a venue that’s neither an arena nor an amphitheater. Nickelback is touring on “Feed the Machine,” its ninth studio album. Released in June, it has so far generated U.S. sales of less than 50,000 copies.
About 7,000 fans, a near sellout, showed up and endured the thick July swelter Sunday night. They were treated to the usual Nickelback show: a showcase of mainstream rock that featured its Top 10 hits, an entertaining visual display and plenty of banter from frontman Chad Kroeger, much of it about the oppressive heat.
They opened with the title track to the new record, a turbo-charged, guitar-centric rock song that, like much of Nickelback’s material, splits the differences between modern rock, grunge and metal. From there, they went back to “Woke Up This Morning” from 2001’s “Silver Side Up,” their first platinum album, then “Photograph,” a pop ballad from “All the Right Reasons,” their best-selling album, now 12 years old.
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Kroeger kept the mood jocular throughout the 100-plus-minute set, toasting with shots of alcohol the crowd and Kansas City and its weather, both the heat and the hellacious storm that raged through on Saturday night. His voice showed no effects from surgery required a couple of years ago that forced the band to cancel part of its world tour. All night he sounded and behaved like the guy his fans have grown to love and his critics have bombarded with potshots. Throughout the set, he was joined vocally by Ryan Peake, who drives the guitar that propels the band’s modern-rock sound.
Sunday’s show was the band’s first in Kansas City since March 2015, but the crowd, a blend of at least three generations, greeted Nickelback raucously, as if the absence had been much longer.
In addition to “Photograph,” the set list featured Top 40-crafted chart-toppers like “Someday,” “Rockstar” and “How You Remind Me” and favorites like “Savin’ Me,” featuring opener Chris Daughtry, the libidinous novelty song “Something in Your Mouth” and heavier artillery like “Animals” and “Burn It to the Ground,” both of which gave the band room to show off its hard-rock and nu-metal muscle.
The numbers may be pointing toward a slow decline in popularity, but Sunday’s show was hard evidence that this band is proud and ready to remind its hardcore fans how and who it really is.