Spew bile if you must on Canuck rockers Nickelback -- everybody does -- but those boys have some patient fans. A few thousand skipped the Dodgers game Sunday and headed to the Forum for a "commercial video shoot," enticed by the promise of a mini-concert following the filming.
With no beer being served, endless waits as cameras were adjusted, crowds coached on how to cheer just right and a chilly draft overtaking the half-filled arena as the afternoon became evening, this was the kind of live music experience that turns fun into an ordeal, if not cause for a riot. But the tank top hotties, frat boys, Latino teens and moms from Yucaipa who dutifully moved around the arena at the video director's behest never stepped over the line from enthusiasm to anger. And after the long haul, they all seemed delighted with what they got.
The commercial, helmed by Baker Smith (the guy behind the Gatorade-hawking viral "Ball Girl" campaign), will somehow link Nickelback's new inspirational strutfest "Gotta Be Somebody" to the financial services offered by Citibank. Nobody at the Forum seemed troubled by the demand that they pummel air for a bank during these troubled economic times; even after half a dozen takes of singer Chad Kroeger lip-syncing, these good-natured extras still raised their hands every time he mouthed the lyric, "Nobody wants to be the last one there." Perhaps they were thinking about the poor sods on the floor of the stock exchange.
Or maybe they just enjoyed the pyro.
For a bank commercial, this production packed heat: Most takes featured flashpots, showers of sparks and much atmospheric smoke as Nickelback stomped along to its prerecorded hit. Kroeger and his guitar buddy Ryan Peake (does anybody else get a Todd Palin vibe from that dude?) bashed away at their instruments like the seasoned video stars they are, while bassist Mike Kroeger stood stoically stage left.
As the takes wore on and the crowd began tiring of Citibank reps raffling off IPod shuffles and signed guitars, Chad Kroeger jovially worked to keep things cool. He joked about taking everyone back to his hotel room to drink themselves into a stupor after expressing disgust at the lack of alcohol on-site. For all his boasts about extreme indulgence, however, Kroeger remained completely in control, an arena rock pro who knew how to pose for the ladies on the floor while never freaking out the dudes.
Kroeger has a real gift for stoking the fire in a room. His charisma explained a lot to this skeptical critic. Like virtually every music journalist, I've never been a Nickelback fan, but I was impressed with Kroeger's ability to make everyone in that long-suffering crowd feel like they were in on the same joke -- and then to turn the joke around and make it a source of superiority.
He broke up the tedium by coming down to press some fan flesh halfway through, and later led the band through one raunchy live number (the AC/DC tribute "Animals") and one chart-topping howl of uplift ("Someday") before returning to lip-syncing. By the time the mini-concert finally began -- more than five hours after the Forum's doors had opened -- Kroeger might have easily lost the thread. But he kept flashing that well-enameled smile and shaking his unruffled Prince Valiant mane.
After some more healing dialogue about how much everyone needed a beer, Kroeger announced that the real rock show would finally begin. The band played three songs (adding up to five throughout the day) and quickly departed, but during that brief moment, Kroeger cranked up the mood using every rock star's favorite tricks. He had fans throw the devil horns and relentlessly demanded more singing along, murmuring "You sound fantastic" in his best sexy Alberta drawl halfway through "Rockstar." The ladies pressing near the stage -- there were many, of all ages -- swooned as if a Santa Ana wind had just hit them from behind.
Kroeger even led a chant of "I say Nickel, you say Back!" as the band surged through its closer, "Figured You Out," which remains one of rock's most mean-spirited recent hits. Despite nasty lyrics such as "I love my hands around your neck," everyone near me was all smiles. Who knew? Nickelback is all about the love. And with a new album due next month, that love, like the "favorite damn disease" Kroeger sings about in that song, is only bound to keep spreading.
-- Ann Powers
Photo by PR Newswire