Nickelback & 3 Doors Down

Nickelback comes from the Land of Nice: the town of Hanna (pop. 3,000) in the Canadian province of Alberta. Businesses there show their pride in the band by occasionally running specials where they give a nickel back on each retail transaction. Really.

But apparently somebody who dwells in the Land of Hard Rock convinced the boys in Nickelback that nice is a four-letter word. A sense of insecurity dominated the band's show Tuesday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Frontman Chad Kroeger spent most of the set awkwardly screaming profanity, and dodging fireballs from industrial-size Bunsen burners and explosions powerful enough to scare al Qaeda.

Amid the pyro, there were some songs, too. To a post-adolescent, Nickelback's hits -- "How You Remind Me" and "Too Bad" among them -- are harder to tell apart than the Olsen twins. But they all seem to follow the Creed credo: Imitate Metallica's crunch to lure the boys, but lose the guitar solos in hopes some girls will tune in as well. In introducing perhaps the stupidest gimmick in rock concert history, Kroeger screeched that his watch indicated the time was "beer o'clock!" Trays of plastic cups half-filled with beer were brought to the stage, and band members spent several minutes tossing the containers into the audience. The set ended with the crowd screaming every mean word of the sexual-humiliation-for-dummies smash single, "Figured You Out."

Mississippi-based closing act 3 Doors Down didn't aim any higher, brainpower-wise. But singer Brad Arnold subbed sincerity and sweat for the opener's faux bad attitude. "Kryptonite," a tune from 3DD's 2000 debut that's by now been downloaded onto the brain of anybody with an FM radio, provided a few minutes of harmless catharsis. And "Away From the Sun" had a message about perseverance that the young audience clearly took to heart. Same with the power ballad "When I'm Gone," which came off as an appropriate soundtrack for either proms or funerals.

-- Dave McKenna

Eliza Gilkyson at Java

Two Texas flags were duct-taped to the wall behind the stage at Jammin' Java on Tuesday night as Eliza Gilkyson took the stage as part of the "Texas to a T" concert series. Although her music wasn't boot-stompin' Texas twang, she did deliver some Southern hospitality, indulging quite a few requests, including "Green Fields," a song penned by her father, guitarist Terry Gilkyson.

She was joined by guitarist Mike Hardwick and her son, drummer Cisco Ryder, who helped his mom out singing backing vocals. Her serene voice was augmented by a few vocal trills and a hint of vibrato to fill out the simple arrangements.

Upbeat and full of humor, Gilkyson's two-hour set didn't drag. She divulged that "Richmond Boy" was written about a man she was dating at the time and hypothesized that the relationship went sour because of her perfect impersonation of his mother. After the laughter died down, Gilkyson played the tender ballad listing all his endearing qualities ("He don't emotionally swing, he notices the little things"). At its conclusion, she segued into the post-breakup version, in which she offered her own director's commentary ("He hasn't got an original thought") between lines to reflect her newfound cynicism about the relationship.

Gilkyson did play a few politically charged numbers, such as her recent "Hiway 9," but she kept the mood light and her anti-Bush monologues to a minimum. To close out her set, she led the audience in a singalong to "Peace Call," an antiwar song by Woodie Guthrie that she discovered in an out-of-print songbook.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Ponys at the Black Cat

The Ponys' debut record, "Laced With Romance," is fueled by garage-band thrust, an unintelligible singer who probably carries pictures of Joey Ramone and Richard Hell in his wallet, and the guitar sound from the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash." It's pretty catchy stuff. On the Black Cat's Backstage Tuesday night, lead Pony Jered Gummere's vocals were even more incomprehensible than on the disc, but it hardly mattered, since the Chicago quintet's garage-rock attack is about the dizzying rush of their entire sound. And throughout the 45-minute set, that sound was direct, bracing and plenty catchy.

The key elements were the guitars of Gummere and Ian Adams, driving "Let's Kill Ourselves," "Little Friends" and "10 Fingers 11 Toes" into territory where they might be confused with forgotten gems from the "Nuggets" series. And if the gentler, more idiosyncratic moments from "Laced With Romance" -- a weird twist on "Then He Kissed Me" called "Sad Eyes" and the crush ballad "Fall Inn" -- were unfortunately ditched, it was because they insisted on a rapid-fire pace with little more than a quick thank-you between numbers.

The melodic panache that moves the band beyond the faceless crop of garage-rock knuckleheads wasn't as palpable Tuesday night as it was in the recording studio, but when flashes of it appeared in "Virus Human," the Ponys seemed capable of galloping toward the pure heart of garage-rock brilliance.

-- Patrick Foster