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For a band that gets little respect in the rock world, Nickelback still seems to have legions of fans, so one would have expected a packed house for their first North American arena tour in two years.  That wasn’t quite the case at their Madison Square Garden show.  This being said, by the end if the night everyone left amped up, with their ears ringing.

Seether opened to a sparse crowd, which perhaps contributed to their lack of energy during their 40-minute set.  They sounded fantastic, but there was little visual stimulation aside from when Shaun Morgan, the guitarist/lead singer, intentionally knocked his mic stand down at the end of their set.  They remained stationary behind the microphones, which were draped in red lights along with the drum riser, as they ran through their most popular songs.

The band just reached a milestone this past week as Country Song, Tonight, and No Resolution from their newest album, Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray, became their first three consecutive singles to hit No. 1.  They played each of those songs, along with some old favorites including Fine Again and Broken.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of their set was the fact that they ended Broken halfway through, just as the crowd was joining in to sing, which felt very abrupt.  I suspect they chose this arrangement because it’s a pretty mellow song for a rock show.  The whole experience was equivalent to sitting home and listening to their album on the stereo with the volume turned up.

The empty seats filled in significantly for grunge rockers Bush, who opened their 45-minute set with the hit song, Machinehead.  With Bush came lights, lasers, and high energy.  The 90s were alive and fans were up out of their seats, singing and dancing and generally excited.  Gavin Rossdale’s voice was right on and so was the band as they played everything from their newest single, The Sound of Winter off their latest album The Sea of Memories, to classics such as Everything Zen and Glycerine.

As an added bonus, they played a fantastic cover of The Beatles’ Come Together, during which Rossdale came down off the stage and walked up through the crowd, from one end of the arena to the other.  If there was anyone left unimpressed before that, there were none after.  The crowd went crazy as he walked through the aisles delivering note after note of lyrical perfection.

Bush has yet to disappoint with their live performances.  Having seen them in a much smaller venue, they are equally as impressive in a large arena, still giving the audience that intimate feel of a smaller setting.  They closed the set with one of their biggest hits, Comedown, and everyone sang right along with them.  It was clear they were going to be a hard act to follow, even for the headliner.

The lights went down again around 9 p.m. and the still not quite packed crowd began to cheer as they anxiously awaited the main event.  A black curtain dropped and Nickelback came into sight as they played the opening song of their 90-minute set, This Means War off their newest album and the tour’s namesake Here and Now.  They came armed with a selection of special effects, including two moving sidewalks – one on each side of the stage – and some pyrotechnics, which no proper rock show would be complete without. Periodically, fireballs would burst along the back of the stage.  They had people up on their feet from the very first note.

Photograph and Far Away were played early in the show, which were big crowd pleasers as one might assume.  Everyone sang together in one huge chorus, swaying back and forth and holding up their cell phone, which have long since replaced lighters.  After about five songs, they revealed the biggest trick up their sleeve

A circular, floating stage came down from the ceiling, complete with mic stands and a drum kit.  The band climbed on and the stage floated up, hovering above the crowd, and brought them toward the back of the arena.  It rotated as they played songs like Rockstar, Bottoms Up, and Animals before landing back on the main stage.

The setlist was complete with all of their big hits plus a few extras and frontman Chad Kroeger delivered impressive vocals.  Fans got to hear songs like How You Remind Me, Something In Your Mouth, Burn It To The Ground, Someday, and Never Again.  Drummer Daniel Adair treated the crowd to a lengthy drum solo shortly before the audience was met with yet another surprise.

Out came t-shirt cannons and suddenly it felt like a rock n’ roll sporting event. It was a fun, interactive part of the show.  Kroeger and the band ended the show with Gotta Be Somebody and Figured You Out, leaving everyone feeling like they got what they came for–a great rock show.

Despite the lack of respect that Nickelback gets, there’s no denying their success.  They’ve sold more than 50 million albums worldwide and have had 20 singles appear on various Billboard charts.  In 2009, Billboard Magazine named them the Top Rock Group of the Decade.

It’s hard to say why the band is often met with such opposition.  Maybe they’re a little too “pop rock” for some people’s taste, however they’ve certainly worked just as hard as any other band to get to where they are.  Their tunes are catchy and easy to sing along with, which is what surely appeals to the average fan.

Bush brought the energy and Nickelback kept it right on going up until the last note.  Even the most skeptical about the latter would have to admit to seeing a great performance.  Kroeger made mention of the fact that this was the band’s first time headlining Madison Square Garden.  Various bands and musicians can often be heard stating that their dream is to play Madison Square Garden because that’s a true sign that you’ve “made it”.

Congratulations, Nickelback – you’ve made it.

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