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Miller's Secret Chevy Metal Concert Featured Lots of Covers, No Dave Grohl

Jun. 10, 2017
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Surprise headliners can backfire, as Milwaukee should know better than most cities. In 2003 the city hosted perhaps the most infamous surprise-headliner fail ever when the heavily hyped secret headliner at Harley-Davidson's 100th anniversary celebration turned out not to be The Rolling Stones, as nearly everybody in the city expected, but rather Elton John, who was peppered with boos from thousands of disappointed bikers. In any other situation, a free Elton John concert would be cause for enormous celebration, but that's the thing about secret shows: They invite our imaginations to run wild, so much so that the actual concert can never live up to the fantasies we imagine in our head.

It was hard not to think about Harley's P.R. debacle while standing in line for MillerCoors' “Cheers to Milwaukee” concert at the Riverside Theater Friday night. When Miller first announced the show last week, there was no reason to believe the headliner would be anything all that special—after all, free live music isn't especially rare in the city this time of the year. But then word spread the secret act was likely Chevy Metal, a cover band led by Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins that usually, but not always, performs with Dave Grohl.

By Friday social media had all but confirmed the Chevy Metal booking, leaving Grohl's participation the only mystery. He had to be there, though, right? Because where's the fun in a Dave Grohl-less Foo Fighters side project? Any why would Miller even bother booking them if he wasn't part of the package? That would just be cruel, right?

Those questions were all the crowd could talk about while they waited in line for the Riverside's doors to open—and, since most showed up hours before the ticketed-beyond-capacity show to guarantee entry, they had plenty of time to chew on them. And even after the curtain finally opened to reveal Chevy Metal at 9:10 p.m., well after the show's advertised 8 p.m. start time, the crowd was still left to speculate. No, Grohl wasn't there, but the band had three microphones set up on the front of the stage, and they were only using two of them. Certainly that third one had to be reserved for Grohl, right? Of course it had to be. Why else would it be there? And if it wasn't for Grohl, who was it there for? Did you hear that Chevy Metal once played with Mick Jagger? Mick Jagger. The guest could be anyone! You could cut the anticipation with a bottle opener.

I want to be careful not to overstate the disappointment. This was not a Harley anniversary situation, where almost everybody left feeling cheated. A good chunk of the crowd, especially the die-hards in Foo Fighters T-shirts who knew what to expect from Chevy Metal, seemed to enjoy the shit out of the group and their high-impact versions of various Queen, Mötley Crüe and Billy Squire favorites. I'm sure they would have liked to have seen Grohl there as much as anybody else, too, but they weren't going to complain about the free show they got. “We're a high school cover band, really, only we're 45 years old,” Hawkins explained between songs, later liking the event to “a giant keg party.” Most of the crowd was very much down for that party.

So on one hand, you don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. But, on the other, this was a horse that a significant chunk of the crowd wouldn't have bothered wasting their time on if they'd simply been allowed to see a picture of it online first. With each song, it became more clear that Grohl was a no-show, and that we'd all just spent hours in line waiting to see a cover band, not all that much more distinguished thank something you might see mid-afternoon at the State Fair. They even played “My Sharona.” Why? Why would they do that?

Patches of the crowd left after just a few songs, while others hung on—after all, they'd waited this long, and how hard would they kick themselves if they learned Grohl took the stage right after they left? Incentivizing them to stay a little longer and sit through another Van Halen cover, sunk cost principle be damned, was the little matter of that tantalizing unoccupied microphone. Somebody had to use it, right? Grohl? Jagger? Turns out it was for Hawkins, when he stepped away from the kit to introduce the night's special guest: drummer Justin Krol, who in a bizarre coincidence is the the Milwaukee musician who most resembles Dave Grohl. His name even rhymes with “Grohl,” which only further confused the crowd as they tried to process if they were witnessing the big moment they'd been waiting for.

It's a free show, so you can't complain, right? I'll bet lots of attendees were telling themselves that as they headed toward the exists. For a free show, though, it sure did go to almost cruel extremes to get the crowd's hopes up.

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