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September 2, 2009
Nickelback: Band for the people

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.

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