For years, we’d been watching the Fiserv Forum take shape. The construction crews toiling away atop the arena’s soaring roofline, the interior decorators armed with fabric swatches and paint chips, the local restaurateurs unloading wheels of cheese or barrels of beer. And last night, we finally got to see what it would look like filled to the gills with screaming fans – when the Killers and the Violent Femmes took to the arena’s stage to play its first-ever ticketed event.
The Violent Femmes are local legends. They were famously discovered – by a member of the Pretenders, no less – while jamming outside the Oriental Theatre, and their 1983 single “Blister in the Sun” still elicits cheers when it’s played at neighborhood bars around the city. So it’s fitting that the Femmes were the first band to play the Fiserv, and fitting too that thousands poured into the amphitheater to welcome them home.
So many people had flooded the stadium by the end of the Femmes’ hour-long set that the crowd looked like a single, seething organism. And that organism cheered with one voice when the Femmes took a bow.
Impressively, the people kept coming, pausing only momentarily to buy beer and the requisite curds from Drink Wisconsinbly. And by the time the lights dimmed – and a “Wayne’s World” logo suddenly, unexpectedly, appeared on the largest of the three screens suspended above the stage – the arena was filled to capacity.
Whichever Bucks employee arranged to have Alice Cooper reprise his 1992 “Wayne’s World” role, as a rock star who knows a surprising amount about Milwaukee’s early history, deserves a raise. For the next few minutes, audiences were treated to an updated rendition of the classic scene in which Cooper originally schooled Wayne (Michael Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) on the finer points of the Algonquin language. This time, though, he didn’t just tell the head bangers that Milwaukee means “The Good Land.” He also dug into the city’s more recent history (a.k.a. the construction of the Fiserv Forum), thanked the Violent Femmes for their performance and then, finally, welcomed The Killers to the stage.
Since their formation in 2002, the Vegas-born band has gone on to put out five consecutive chart-topping albums. And their debut single, “Mr. Brightside” has spent more time on the UK Singles Chart (202 weeks) than any other song in history.
Happily, that’s the song they chose to open their set with last night. Brandon Flowers, the band’s frontman and one of its two founding members, swaggered onto the stage – wearing tight-fitting black pants and a satin suit jacket that looked like something Ricky Ricardo would have coveted – and immediately launched into the song’s opening stanza. When he reached its chorus, lines like “But it’s just the price I pay” and “Destiny is calling me” seemed to swell to fill the entirety of the 17,500 seat arena, and audience members sang along delightedly.
The Killers followed up the song with a newer number, “Spaceman,” then returned to more familiar territory with “Somebody Told Me.” The entire time the three screens hanging overhead cycled through a series of kaleidoscopically colored visuals. And neon lights – not unlike the ones you see in the band’s hometown – illuminated the musicians and a pair of backup singers whose presence elevated many of the numbers.
In between the songs, Flowers bantered. “I know this is a new arena,” he said at one point early in the set. “So we don’t necessarily want to blow the roof off. However, we do want to test the foundations, to make sure it’s okay.”
Then the band began to march their way through a five-song hit parade, playing “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “For Reasons Unknown,” Human” and “The Man” in rapid succession. Midway through, Flowers invited an audience member – who was evidently standing in the front row waving a sign proclaiming his talent as a bassist – to play “For Reasons Unknown” alongside him.
The fan, forever known now simply as “George,” delivered an admirable performance and earned what might have been the second most raucous round of applause of the night. The most raucous, of course, was reserved for the finale, when Flowers invited the Violent Femmes back on stage and together they played a cheery rendition of “Making Our Dreams Come True,” the theme song from “Laverne and Shirley.”
The crowd loved it. Some sang along. Others latched onto their friends and started swaying happily in time to the music. I saw at least one fan, in her late twenties or early thirties, burst into sudden tears, which she made no effort to wipe away.
In short, The Killers killed it.