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Live Review: Nickelback - Allphones Arena Sydney (24.11.12)

Despite the constant barrage of name-calling and derision that this Canadian monster rock band seems to receive from all corners of the globe, this reviewer has always felt that Chad Kroeger and co's ability to write larger-than-life, catchy hooks can simply not be denied. Additionally, for all the slings and arrows fired in their direction accusing them of being sell-outs, plastic, fake and everything else, you surely have to admit that their catalogue contains some truly fist-pumping moments.

Apparently some 20,000 people agreed with us on November 24 when Nickelback filled the Allphones Arena for the first of two nights. The band's broad appeal was certainly obvious when you looked at the seemingly disparate throng making their way into the over-sized shed at Sydney's Olympic Park through several layers of security, bag checks and ushers.

At $150 a ticket, this was no cheap show. Add $50 for a t-shirt or $30 for a baby onesie, $4 for a bottle of water and even more for a watered down bourbon and you're living smack in the middle of corporate rock land. But let's not fool ourselves: perhaps, once upon a time, Nickelback were a group like any other; sweating it out on little stages in dive bars and lugging their own gear. But when you have the ability to sell over 30-million records in a climate like the one that exists today, you have to be doing something right to get to this point. That doesn't just happen.

In the first of at least two odes to the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, Nickelback walk on stage to the refrains of 'Walk' and the house erupts. They launch straight into one of their many tunes about strippers and naughty things, going on to rattle off an extensive set of their hits spanning almost their entire catalogue.

While there's plenty of witty banter between songs and no hesitation in dropping the F-bomb, one couldn't help but get the impression that it was all a little too rehearsed. Was it possible that some of those same jokes had been spoken at shows before today? Despite our initial willingness to give the band the benefit of the doubt - that they really were a balls-to-the-wall rock monster - the signs were starting to point toward something more akin to cabaret... albeit some rockin' bloody cabaret.

The stage looked like something more suited to an act like Christina or Rhianna. The graphics flashed up on the large screens behind the band tended to be a bit naff and the lack of speaker cabinets seemed to dilute the rock vibe even further. Don't get it wrong: Nickelback are a bunch of dudes who can seriously play and it was nice to find that Chad could sing just as well live as on record, as well as playing guitar at the same time. But it all just felt a bit lifeless.

Now the question: was the overall feeling of lifelessness entirely the band's fault or was the venue also to blame? Surely, big arenas like this are rarely the optimum place to witness rock. The acoustics suck and you're almost always too far from the action. These issues were in play tonight, although we have to wonder if many people realised, considering they were watching much of the show through the screens on their mobile phones and digital cameras.

In some ways, Nickelback could be victims of their own success. Sure, the crowd is enthusiastic and sing along to most of the set. They love the Pantera-esque 'beer throwing' segment and lap up the attention the band's own film crew give them when transmitting crowd shots onto the huge screens above. However, we reckon the show would have been far more potent and electric had it been on the Hordern stage, complete with all requisite rock paraphernalia like Marshall stacks, pyro and more spontaneity.

Ultimately, we're sure most fans would have walked away feeling poorer of pocket, but richer for having seen one of their favourite bands pull off a flawless performance (use of the non-word 'neglective' aside). We live amongst a huge and richly diverse musical landscape and Nickelback and their 20,000 fans proved tonight that regardless of critical slurs or an over-rehearsed show, the spectacle of a big-time rock show is one that has to be experienced at some point in all our lives.