It was an odd pairing, to be sure.
Revered, somewhat eccentric hard rock/power-pop veterans Cheap Trick opening for the proudly formulaic Nickelback on the last leg of their Feed the Machine tour? What looks strange on paper actually came across quite well on Thursday night as two quite dissimilar acts shared the stage at Rogers Place.
Headliners Nickelback were off at a gallop with the title track of their latest, a jolt of tight near-metal that points at possible interesting new territory for them. A couple more songs in after their massive hit Photograph and it was essentially a party, as a relaxed, grinning vocalist Chad Kroeger loosened up with every passing minute. He singled out friends in the crowd, did an Elvis impression while singing Happy Birthday to an audience member, and went out to oblige a visiting Swiss fan who demanded a hug.
It felt like a bush party attended by 18,000 people, but with beer at twice the cost and an energetic, tight band. Kroeger jokingly announced the song Something in Your Mouth (representative line: She’s bending as you’re spending) as having “very deep lyrics”; earlier he picked up a g string thrown on stage and popped it onto bass player Mike Kroeger’s tuning pegs. There was a pass at a Tragically Hip song, and one of the fans made it up onstage to sing Rock Star with the band’s old friend from Hanna. They shuffled in goofy-but-fun drinking tunes (This Afternoon) alongside sombre, mid-tempo ballads (Lullaby), nailing a long-simmering suspicion that Nickelback could probably shift to the top of the New Country charts as well if they wanted to.
So a grand party it was, and since everyone involved loved it, from the packed-out Rogers Place audience to the band, we’re just going to mark this one up as a success.
But let’s get back to Cheap Trick, okay?
One audience member in hearing dismissed them as old, and that’s undeniable. They’ve also got more snot-nosed punk attitude than bands half their age, much less their touring partners, who graciously acknowledged their iconic status. As happily out-of-step with prevailing musical trends as they were at the height of their commercial success, Cheap Trick also still sound immediate and fresh.
Some things have stayed the same, others have changed, at least appearance-wise. Lead guitarist Rick Neilsen looked like, well, Rick Neilsen, but bassist Tom Petersson hid under Pharrell Williams’ hat and vocalist Robin Zander dressed like he was about to zip off to a Judas Priest concert after. Not having original drummer Bun E. Carlos in the band was a definite let down, though Daxx Neilsen (son of Rick) fit in nicely, and the huge smile that would occasionally creep across his face as he hammered along to classic songs was a pleasure to see.
They didn’t go particularly deep into the catalogue but they did air out some lesser-known tracks like In Colors Come On Come On, and Red Ruby Lips from Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. The inclusion of their mid ’80s comeback hit The Flame was probably inevitable and necessary, but it stuck out like a sore thumb alongside gems like their Fats Domino cover Ain’t That a Shame, Baby Loves to Rock, or the Kinks-flavored cruncher Long Time Coming, one of their most recent singles.
After making a joyous racket out of album cuts for 40 minutes they then brought out the hit singles. That was also when a stream of audience members decided to take washroom or drink breaks, which led to the incredible sight of people walking away as the band cranked up into high octane versions of I Want You to Want Me, Dream Police, and Surrender, Neilsen tossing a vinyl record into the audience during the line “got my KISS records out.” It was a bad decision that some crowd members will have to explain to their kids and grandkids for years to come.
Cheap Trick ended their hour-long set with Neilsen pulling out his five neck guitar for Goodnight Now, a rave-up closer that also stands as a gauntlet thrown down to anyone playing after them. Was the gauntlet properly taken up on Thursday night? That’s all a matter of opinion, friends.
With: Shaman’s Harvest, Cheap Trick
When: Thursday night
Where: Rogers Place