Word that Bush was touring with Nickelback this spring seemed to prompt one of two reactions: “Really? Nickelback?” or “Bush — that’s still a thing?”
Yes, and yes.
Pairing Bush with Nickelback, though, makes sense, in that Nickelback is very much a stylistic descendant of Bush, which skipped over the commercial ambivalence of American grunge bands and aimed straight for mass-culture success. Nickelback is the latter-day equivalent, just streamlined, with bigger riffs and less subtlety. There was plenty of the former and little of the latter during Nickelback’s performance Friday at XL Center in Hartford, where the band treated a sizable crowd to 90 minutes’ worth of red-meat hard rock, and one unexpected cover. (See more photos here.)
The musicians radiated a regular-guy affability on stage, playing songs that were largely about having a good time: getting wasted on “Bottoms Up,” getting famous on “Rockstar” and getting laid on, well, plenty of others. Even on the darker songs, like opener “This Means War” or the domestic abuse tale “Never Again,” singer Chad Kroeger never seemed to take things personally — he had the confident air of someone who knows he’ll be back to having a good time in no time.
Nickelback performed on a huge stage with a pair of runways on either side jutting out at angles into the crowd. There were video screens, banks of lights and jets of pyro. Out in the middle of the arena floor, there was also a smaller stage that rotated slowly when the band dashed out to it for a few songs mid-set, including “Rockstar” and the power-ballad “Someday,” which bookended what seemed like a spur-of-the-moment cover of “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO.
Back on the main stage, lead guitarist Ryan Peake switched to piano for “Lullaby,” drummer Daniel Adair took a thunderous solo after “When We Stand Together” (Nickelback’s take on a U2-style solidarity anthem) and members of the road crew came out to fire t-shirts cannons and toss cups of beer into the crowd for members of the audience to catch.
After “How You Remind Me” and “Burn It to the Ground,” Nickelback returned to play “Gotta Be Somebody” and “Figured You Out” for an encore.
Bush didn’t make mention of the headliner during its 45-minute set, but the English band definitely helped get the crowd revved up for Nickelback. Bush played some of its biggest hits, including “Machinehead” and “Glycerine” and “Comedown,” along with a thumping cover of the Beatles “Come Together” that saw singer Gavin Rossdale leave the stage to race around the arena, singing from different vantage points.
Playing before Bush, Seether delivered a 45-minute set of dreary hard rock with little in the way of musical dynamics — it was just a wash of indiscernible sound propelled by pounding drums. My Darkest Days opened the show.
Nickelback’s set list:
1. “This Means War,” 2. “Something In Your Mouth,” 3. “Never Again,” 4. “Photograph,” 5. “Far Away,” 6. “Bottoms Up,” 7. “Rockstar” (on small stage), 8. “Sexy And I Know It” (LMFAO cover, on small stage), 9. “Someday” (on small stage), 10. T-shirt cannon instrumental, 11. “Animals,” 12. “Lullaby,” 13. “When We Stand Together,” 14. Drum solo, 15. “How You Remind Me,” 16. “Burn It to the Ground.” Encore: 17. “Gotta Be Somebody,” 18. “Figured You Out.”