Nickelback bringing loud sound, rock theatrics to MGM arena

Wobbly they are, in - and above - the audience at a Nickelback concert.

This hard-rocking band has noticed the hard-drinking tendencies of its fans. Particularly when the Canadian boys come to your town on weekends, as they do ours Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.

"It's usually your Fridays and Saturdays you get the real lights-out action," bassist Mike Kroeger says. "When people make more of a big deal out of it, you can feel it up there."

And by "up there," he is talking about, for at least one part of the show, a circular disc of a stage that takes flight, suspending all four members of the band from a track running out over the audience.

"I might have threw up in my mouth a little bit the first couple of times," Kroeger confides. "I have a little fear of heights and the floor is transparent Plexiglas, and it sways a little bit."

Because the stage rides out on four motor-controlled chains, "It's not a perfect science so it kind of swings a little bit," he says. "When we did it in rehearsals in an empty arena with a cement floor, it's so foreboding. But when you're up above all the people in a full packed house it doesn't seem like that big a deal.

"I think it's more of a function of having to put on a brave face because all those people are watching."

Perhaps these drinking songs and arena theatrics help answer the frequently asked question: Why Nickelback?

The band occupies two seemingly contradictory places in pop culture. On one hand, the very name is a universally acceptable punch line, the music press's one-word summation of all that ails the recording industry.

And yet, what other rock band of the 2000s headlines sports arenas instead of the House of Blues? Coldplay, maybe, if you push the definition of "rock" to its poppy limits.

But when it comes to guitars-a-blazin' songs about the midnight queen who is gonna be your sex machine?

"The cyclical nature of people's tastes right now has swung far away from rock," Kroeger agrees.

"It's a hard time to be a rock band right now. And to be an up-and-coming rock band would be terribly hard. I wouldn't want to put that on anybody," he says of a music business where hip-hop, electronic dance music, show-choir pop - "basically anything but a guy with a guitar is going off right now."

But, he predicts, "It'll be back around. As a rock band, you know there's only so long before people go, 'You know I just want to go to a big, loud rock show.' "

Nickelback preserves the option for them, even if it has done a bit of sleeping with the enemy.

Kroeger is asked whether the band has been tempted to put any of its songs - say, the drinkin' anthem "Bottom's Up" from the newest album, "Here and Now" - up for sale so Kenny Chesney or Blake Shelton could make it a big country-radio hit.

Turns out it worked the other way around. Kroeger's brother Chad - Nickelback's voice and primary writer - shares the songwriting credit for the band's last single, "Lullaby," with three other writers.

The song came out of "a writing session Chad did with some country guys in Nashville; these songwriters who write all the hits for everybody," brother Mike explains.

"When 'Lullaby' came to the point where it was sort of scratch-recorded as a demo, Chad was like, 'Hey, do you guys mind if I take this one back to the guys in Nickelback?' "

The decision "transcends any ego or pride," Mike says. "We're not that band that's going to go reinvent themselves for whatever reason artists do it," so diversity comes with pushing the range of the songs themselves.

As with any band that's been in business for seven albums, "You could say we probably repeated ourselves. It's just a byproduct of having our own sound."

And that hints at another answer to the "Why Nickelback?" question. Love them or hate them, you know it's them. Can that be said of most modern rock bands?

"As soon as my brother's voice starts going, it's pretty obvious who it is," Mike agrees. "As soon as he starts singing, anybody who's wondering won't be."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.