ATLANTIC CITY - Concertgoers to Saturday's Nickelback show at Boardwalk Hall experienced three different live presentations of 21st century, commercial, mainstream hard rock.

The band from Alberta, Canada, brought with them a big-stage, arena-filling rock show. Explosions and fireworks went off at the start of the set before the first note was even played. Their opening song, "Burn It to the Ground," featured flames shooting upward where those close enough to the stage could feel the heat.

The center of the stage featured a huge video screen that at alternate times showed the band, the audience and scenes from their videos. They also brought moving overhead rigs of lights and smaller video screens.

Nickelback's Boardwalk Hall show was the first gig of their 2010 North American tour. The concert, sponsored by Caesars Atlantic City, was sold out, with 11,804 people filling the arena. Lead singer and guitarist Chad Kroeger said there are a few towns that are dangerous for him: Reno, Las Vegas and here. He figured he would be down $200,000 before he even played, so he said he stayed in his room.

The quartet made its fist appearance in the city in more than six years, since an October 2003 headlining show in the Event Center at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Although a small stage in the center of the arena floor was visible throughout the entire concert, Nickelback was the only group to use it, for the jaunty, relaxed pop-rock album track "This Afternoon" and the top-20 pop hit, "If Today Was Your Last Day" from their newest CD, 2008's "Dark Horse." They also played their acoustically flavored, top-10 pop hit "Rockstar" from the middle of the arena.

For the money spent on their stage show, the decision to attend a Nickelback concert comes down to a simple question: "Do you like enough of their songs to pay to see them?"

Their mixture of 1980s hair-metal ballads and 1990s grunge-influenced songs are not innovative. Kroeger is not charismatic, and they are dedicated to their songs and not instrumental virtuosity, but what they offer was enough for the thousands of fans who filled the arena and rocked out to the up-tempo numbers and sang along to their ballads while taking in an expensive stage show. They were the most successful duo or group on the pop charts for the first decade of the new millennium, beating out Linkin Park and the Black Eyed Peas.

On their best songs, they do a common touch, reminiscent of Bon Jovi.

The crowd sang along to their No. 2 pop hit, "Photograph," from 2005 while the video screen showed clips from the video and pictures of locations from here and Philadelphia, such as the Irish Pub, the White House Sub Shop and the Philadelphia Flyers logo. From the newest CD, the song "Shakin' Hands" would not have sounded out of place performed by Hinder or Poison as Kroeger sang about a poor girl who moves to Los Angeles and makes money as a stripper and prostitute.

It's amazing that Nickelback gets away with the schizophrenic messages in their music.

Kroeger introduced a No. 1 mainstream rock hit "Something in Your Mouth" with a little talk about how women should not be allowed to eat ice cream cones, lollipops and Popsicles, but the women especially sang along when he whipped out one of his sensitive ballads, such as the No. 10 pop hit "Savin' Me" from 2006.

For all of the stage craft, a Nickelback show is no place for a concertgoer who does not like booming drums, thunderous bass and raging guitars. They only take a break from that when they do their ballads.

One thing Kroeger can take a break from is profanity. He even commented from the stage that he saw a 12-year-old standing in the general admission section with his mother and father, but he kept dropping F-bombs, and because of the band's radio popularity, there were children in the arena younger than 12.

Shinedown, one of the opening acts, will probably never be as popular as Nickelback, but lead singer Brent Smith came off as a real gentleman and probably had the strongest voice of the night.

The band had its fans in the audience, as some concertgoers were wearing their shirts, which pictured the cover of their latest CD, 2008's "The Sound of Madness." Many in the arena were seeing Shinedown for the first time, but the group served as a good warmup for Nickelback as Smith tried to make everyone stand up and jump for their "Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide" from their newest album. He also said he heard the most beautiful women in the world attended Nickelback's shows, and he found it to be true Saturday night.

"You are one of the greatest gifts we're been given, so tonight, we have a gift for you," Smith said before launching into a cover of "Simple Man" from the legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, also from their hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

The most musically interesting act of the night may have been the opener, alternative metal trio Sick Puppies, originally from Sydney, but now from Los Angeles. The band did a hard rock version of Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and offered a little bit more variety, a mix of punk drive and atmospherics. They were greeted with a good turnout even though they came out at 7 p.m. The arena floor was already filled with general-admission fans who wanted to a good standing spot for Nickelback.

Contact Vincent Jackson: