Nickelback's cover of Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" didn't quite come off as the departure intended Monday night at Sleep Train Amphitheatre.
That's because Nickelback always has been a rock band with country-music sensibilities. After all, the Canadian hit-makers offer sing-along-ready odes to experiences common to many of us, whether it's attending high school ("Photograph") or dreaming, for a moment, of enjoying a lavish rock 'n' roll lifestyle ("Rockstar").
Lead singer Chad Kroeger even devoted much of his between-song chatter Monday night to praising California's sunshine -- weather far different, he informed the crowd, from what he gets at home in Vancouver, B.C.
Who can't relate to weather talk?
It's no wonder the Sleep Train audience -- 14,000 strong, even on a Monday night -- hung on his every word and on to Nickelback's every user-friendly note. As Kroeger sang the line "And this is where I grew up" from "Photograph," audience members ranging from adolescent to salt-and-pepper haired all shook their heads in appreciation.
It helped that Nickelback's music takes on a much fuller sound live than it does on record.
In concert, Daniel Adair becomes a monster on drums -- at least in that contained, Canadian way. Kroeger's gritty vocals sound more supple live, and although he's billed as rhythm guitarist to Ryan Peake'ss lead, Kroeger also knows his way around a riff.
As the culmination of a devil-horn-sign flashing, hard-rocking four-band show (Saving Abel, Hinder and Papa Roach opened), however, Nickelback's set seemed anti-climactic. Yes, they know how to rock, but their repertoire consists mostly of ballads and mid-tempo songs.
The distinction became stark when Papa Roach front man Jacoby Shaddix and Hinder singer Austin Winkler joined Nickelback on stage for a cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Whereas Shaddix and Winkler seemed rough, ready and ragged, the amiable, cleaner-cut Kroeger came off as almost fatherly -- he's only 34 -- in their presence.
Papa Roach proved the most energetic act of the night, and not just because of the Vacaville/Sacramento band's hometown advantage.
Shaddix mesmerizes on stage, amping the audience with his eye-bugging theatrics and constant hand waving. After the band delivered solid versions of hits such as "Scars" and "Last Resort," Shaddix vamped for more love from his "916/530/707" crowd.
He always got it. Shaddix made you want to throw you hands in the air and wave them like you ... were doing what Shaddix told you.