VANCOUVER — Nickelback is a love ’em or hate ’em sort of band, and on Sunday the Juno Awards loved them.
And after the Alberta rockers collected a leading three prizes, Chad Kroeger made no apologies for fronting a populist band that often gets a rough ride from critics.
“We are a very mainstream band that’s not popular among the press,” Kroeger said backstage. “Sam Roberts, for example, is … more of a critics’ darling. And obviously, we are a mainstream band but that’s OK, because our fans like that kind of music, and that’s who we’re making music for.”
From start to finish, Nickelback ruled the show.
They kicked off the night with a performance of their single “Something In Your Mouth” and would climb the stage three more times to collect awards for group of the year, album of the year and the Juno fan choice award.
“Wow, wow, we have been doing this for awhile now — since ’96 — and to win this — group of the year — is just absolutely amazing,” Kroeger said in accepting the first award. “Thanks to the fans and everybody here in Vancouver, thank you so much.”
Montreal rocker Roberts picked up the Juno for artist of the year — his second prize of the weekend — and put in a strutting performance of “Them Kids,” while Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall also made it a pair by bringing home the trophy for rap recording of the year.
Alexisonfire frontman Dallas Green won songwriter of the year for his side project City and Colour and Toronto synth-pop singer/songwriter Lights was named new artist of the year to round out the awards on Sunday, while Vancouver rockers Loverboy were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
But this was Nickelback’s night.
“Dark Horse,” which took the trophy for album of the year, was the top-selling record by a Canadian artist or group last year, moving 216,000 copies according to numbers released by Nielsen SoundScan.
And, though the band is not originally from Vancouver, the shrieking crowd at General Motors Place treated them like one of their own.
“This is why we didn’t get a real job,” said guitarist Ryan Peake in accepting the fan choice award. “This is why we still don’t have a real job.”
The band has been the recipient of some incredibly harsh reviews from critics over the years, a fact Kroeger made reference to while accepting for album of the year.
“The press are going to have a field day with this one,” he said.
Backstage, Kroeger said he hoped the media kept it up.
“I’m terrified now because it seems as though you’re almost letting up on us a bit,” he said with a laugh. “Rolling Stone was half decently kind to us, and I’m terrified that this is going to change somehow.
“So if you guys want to go back to beating us up, I’m fine with that. … I have no problems letting this rollercoaster ride exactly as it is.”
It was a night where the hard-rockers were unequivocally crowned by Juno — only Kardinal Offishall sent a light jab their way, while accepting rap recording of the year with a video message.
“Next year, (they should) do 90 per cent hip-hop, and only 10 per cent lifetime achievement awards for Nickelback — you can only give them so many awards,” he said.
Host Russell Peters had promised to target the band after they declined his request to appear in a skit with him, but he left them alone.
Others weren’t so lucky.
Peters said he would bruise more egos in his second consecutive year hosting and followed through with a few off-colour topical jokes about artists in attendance during his monologue.
On Sarah McLachlan, who split with husband Ashwin Sood last year, Peters said: “I hear Sarah’s single. Listen Sarah, I don’t want one brown guy to ruin it for the rest of us.”
He also drew a few nervous laughs with a shot at former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, who was charged with drug possession last summer (a judge later said the charge would be dropped if the singer stayed out of trouble for six months).
“Speaking of snow, Steven Page left the Barenaked Ladies,” Peters said. “Apparently to sniff out some other work.”
Following some disapproving groans from the crowd, he added: “You know I had to do a few lines on that.”
The show moved briskly but at times felt predictable.
The award for Lights — who only has an EP to her name but saw her popularity grow when her music was featured in Old Navy commercials — was one of the night’s few true surprises, and though she seemed as shocked as anyone, she kept it together and remembered to thank her parents.
“Thank you for putting up with all those late-night mad scientist music-creating sessions into the wee hours of the morning — I told you it was going to pay off,” she said.
Green stayed similarly composed when he accepted the first award of the night — he made sure to thank his wife, MuchMusic VJ Leah Miller, after apparently forgetting to do so the first time he claimed a Juno, as a member of Alexisonfire in 2007.
Loverboy, meanwhile, chose to pay tribute in their acceptance speech to former bassist Scott Smith, who died in a boating accident in 2000.
“I know you got the best seat in the house up there in rock ’n’ roll heaven, we sure do miss you,” said lead singer Mike Reno.
Roberts also looked genuinely stunned when he was named artist of the year, and chose to figuratively tip his hat — he was actually wearing one, wide-brimmed, suede and tan — to his competitors.
“I’d be crazy not to acknowledge the fact that we are in outstanding company for this award, so to all the other nominees, it’s truly an honour and just mindblowing to be included in your company tonight.”
Meanwhile, the elaborate set design — the stage was adorned with vines of psychedelic leaves — prompted more than a few cracks from presenters and artists alike.
“I know this is Vancouver, but what’s with the grow-op on stage?” Peters joked. “Do you know what the street value of this stage is right now?”
Added Kroeger later: “We’ll start smoking some of the stage, it’ll be fantastic.”