There’s few bands who can match Nickelback’s walking status as musical punchline and punching bag, surely.
The distaste for the Alberta rockers is so well-documented by now, it is practically carved in granite; everyone has heard the anecdotes about the pickled cucumber winning a popularity poll against them, or the time when Queensland Police went to the effort of issuing a Wanted poster of them for “crimes against music”.
Except the reasoning for such vitriol now seems tenuous at best. It’s been a decade since Nickelback last seriously troubled the airwaves and singling them from the contemporary crowd for their outdated lyrical offensiveness and derivative throwback style of music seems terribly petty. They may have trotted out nine albums of prosaic, MOR hard-edged rock across twenty-two years, but none of them are as generally harmful as their detractors would have you believe. There are other scions far worthier of scorn in 2018 than Chad Kroeger and company.
On the second night of a UK tour dropping by Leeds’s First Direct Arena, they stick to the hits across a lean, nostalgia-filled evening of unexpectedly good entertainment. For a songwriter often derided as aiming for the lowest common denominator, Kroeger is smarter than his reputation suggests; he is certainly in on the lyrical joke with smutty stripper anthems Something in Your Mouth and Figure You Out, framing them as envelope-pushing lampooning of the hair-metal genre rather than a greasy embrace of it.
Stacked on the back of an opening salvo featuring schmaltzy soft-rocker Photograph and power ballad Far Away, they deliver maximum singalong value through chunky chords and cheery grins to galvanising effect.
As frontmen go, Kroeger projects an affectionate sincerity, an aura helped by, a fan duet on the ubiquitous Rockstar aside, eschewing most arena show gestures, like the dreaded acoustic interlude.
There’s a looseness to the band too as they trawl through their history; they bust out a surprisingly limber groove for the funky She Keeps Me Up and turn on a dime when Kroeger unexpectedly digs out his solo hit Hero to a rapturous reception.
By the time a closing trio of How You Remind Me, Gotta Be Somebody and Burn It to the Ground have steered the show to a strident, air-punching finale, Nickelback have confounded reputational expectations with big songs and good humour.
That pickled cucumber best watch out; its crown is – rightfully – under threat.