nickeltimes@ Newcastle Arena, May 25 2009

Tonight was the night Nickelback set new standards for stage shows at the North East’s biggest music venue. And their music wasn’t bad either. Yep, you heard it right. Their music was, in actual fact, pretty damn perfect and us sceptics were promptly blown away by the self-styled Rockstars.

Of course huge light shows, high definition screens, purpose-shot film and fireworks packaged by Pantera’s former pyro man all prove what Chad and the boys are so desperate to remind us – that they are one of the world’s most commercially successful hard rock acts. Big shows come with the territory when you sell as many records as the Canadians have shifted over the years but then this wasn’t all about glorying in a fortune hewn from rock. Some serious thought and meticulous planning (and clearly a huge amount of cash) has gone into the band’s current show and Tyneside was treated to a visual masterclass and an audio explosion.

But more on the headliners later. What of the support act poised to step into their hosts’ stadium filling shoes anytime soon? Black Stone Cherry have just announced yet another UK club tour – with Newcastle on the list for October – but already the band seem too big for Academy-size halls. Chris Robertson and his crew might have been too tentative as the opening act on last year’s Def Leppard/Whitesnake double bill but with experience comes fresh confidence. And the band looked oh-so comfortable strutting across Nickelback’s enormous teardop stage, belting out their biggest tunes with a certain Kentucky swagger.

Hearing Things My Father Said live for the first time was a spine-tingling highlight – it’s the standout track on the band’s current Folklore & Superstition disc – and Maybe Someday was made for enormodomes with sizeable sound systems to match. Maybe someday BSC will be back headlining the Metro Radio Arena and we’d love to think that day will be very soon.

But if fans of the tee-total US stars thought that was their lot then watching Chris return to lead Nickelback in a bristling rendition of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell was an unexpected bonus. Again proving he was born for the big stage, the Jack Black lookalike made the most of the generous opportunity afforded him by the headline act. On Nickelback’s part it was an incredible gesture and just one of many which made this a magical night to remember.

The North East-flavoured picture montage during Photopgraph drew warm appreciation as flashes of the Tyne’s various bridges, The Angel Of  The North and a bottle of Brown Ale swiftly got the audience onside. A nice touch and a masterstroke by a band which seems unable to do any wrong these days.

And that hasn’t always been the case of course. Four years ago Nickelback would have struggled to fill The Cluny but then along came Rockstar and the band was reborn in the UK. They didn’t fill the Arena but they still brought the full show to the North East and never let the vast swathes of empty seats affect an ultra-professional display. Playing mega-hit Rockstar and How You Remind Me half an hour before the show ended was brave but then this was a set built on a cocksure self-belief borne out of selling out huge venues  across North America for close on a decade.

What that did mean was the frankly bizarre decision to open the encore with a Kings Of Leon cover. Again, perfectly executed but utterly out of sync with everything that had gone before. The atmopshere nosedived and the toilets became rammed but by then the crowd didn’t really care. By then all the hits and a rare live rendition of new single If Today Was Your Last Day had ensured satisfied customers in their droves.

Chad Kroeger’s easy conversational style, T-shirt snipers, a fabulous version of If Everyone Cared and that supremely crafted stage show forced this particular critic to wolf down a huge slice of humble pie. Gig of the year so far? Maybe.