The Killers, Violent Femmes rock first Fiserv Forum show, cover 'Laverne & Shirley' song
To answer the million-dollar question — really, the $524 million question — Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee Bucks' new arena, is a fantastic place to see a concert.
At least it was for Tuesday's grand opening show, featuring the Killers, Milwaukee's own Violent Femmes, and about 13,000 fans.
Expectations were enormous, and failure, honestly, wasn't an option.
About $250 million was used in public money to construct the 17,500-seat venue, and Bucks leadership and arena supporters have long suggested Fiserv Forum will become the beating heart for a revitalized downtown.
We'll see about that, but as far as first impressions go, the staff passed Tuesday's test with flying colors.
RELATED:First Fiserv Forum concert: Panorama Club closed for headliner, first spilled beer
With 14 metal detectors at the main entrance alone, and perhaps twice as many staff personnel guiding people in, the security process was painless — and exiting, too, was, smooth. Concession and bathroom lines appeared to move quickly throughout the night, and several staff members I bumped into were exceedingly polite, akin to the sort of attentive concierge service you might get at a fine hotel.
The arena concourses were just as inviting. Aside from a somewhat claustrophobic hallway on the first floor where traffic has to funnel around tables and food and seating lines, the concourses offered plenty of breathing room and ideal gathering places, be it the jumbo video screen in the lobby that quickly became a go-to selfie spot, or the Panorama Club at the top of the arena — a section given so little care at many large sporting facilities — that offered handsome views down into the seating bowl and of the Milwaukee skyline on an outdoor deck.
Appealing social spots like these, all over Fiserv Forum, felt just as important to the spirit of the building and the experience Tuesday, but a seemingly simple yet effective curtaining system ensured the light and chatter from the halls didn't spoil the show.
People making a beer run could still clearly make out Killers frontman Brandon Flowers' theatrical croon and the Femmes scrappy folk-punk too — although the sound bleed was loud enough in some concourses that I suspect ordering may have been a challenge.
As for the concert experience itself, I saw the Killers' two-hour set from eight different vantage points, and was impressed by the clear sight lines and sharp acoustics each step of the way.
Intimacy is one of the first things that come to mind with Fiserv Forum, and the last thing you would expect from an arena.
About 65 percent of the seats are in the lower bowl, and Fiserv Forum isn't as tall as the Bucks' previous home, the soon-to-be-demolished BMO Harris Bradley Center. Standing in the lower bowl beside the stage, it really felt like the crowd was hovering right on top of the band.
And while the sound was certainly duller in the upper bowl, the distance to the stage felt remarkably closer than the Bradley Center's nosebleed seats, aided in part by a sharp slope — and the seats were distinctly more spacious and comfortable even up top.
As for the night's entertainment, you couldn't ask for a more fitting first band than Milwaukee's most famous musical export, the Femmes.
Let the record state that the first music heard at Fiserv Forum's first concert was scratchy, maddening avant-garde instrumentation, followed by some hard experimental jazz. That's the Femmes for you, and when the prerecorded intro ended and the band took the stage, they got rolling not with signatures, but somewhat deeper cuts like "Prove My Love" and "I'm Nothing."
The band's hits came about 15 minutes into the hourlong set, with the core trio joined by saxophonist Aaron Gardner, of Milwaukee jazz act Strangelander, and Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn on accordion, for a punchy "Blister in the Sun" into "Kiss Off."
Even for the latter hit, the Femmes wigged out, with Brian Ritchie letting loose with a heady acoustic bass solo that could have easily sounded like mud in a big room, but at Fiserv Forum Tuesday, was rich and deep.
The Killers wasted no time testing out the venue's acoustics, kicking off Tuesday's set with a buoyant rendition of their most beloved hit, "Mr. Brightside."
"Now I know this is a new arena, so we don't necessarily want to blow the roof off," Flowers said Tuesday. "However, we might want to test the foundations a little bit."
A crowd-pleasing line, sure, but the Killers didn't get where they were by being a bold, foundation-rattling rock band. That said, there were scores of sweeping singalongs — from early hits like "All These Things That I've Done" and "Somebody Told Me," to newer fare like the tongue-in-cheek, chest-puffing "The Man."
Flowers was in full showman mode fitting for the band's Las Vegas origins — sporting aviator sunglasses and a sparkling, all-gold suit and platform shoes for an encore that included "When We Were Young," climaxing with a shower of white fireworks on stage, and touring lead guitarist Ted Sablay (a Fond du Lac native) nailing the unforgettable guitar riffs with a mighty leap.
And to the Killers' credit, the band made an effort to make this a special event fitting for Milwaukee.
There was a custom Milwaukee water tower that was part of the stage design, and Flowers gushed about the privilege of performing with the Femmes, saying the band was the second he saw live.
There also was a special video intro, a new take of Alice Cooper's famous Milwaukee history lesson from "Wayne's World," with the legendary shock rocker adding some new lines.
"I wasn't going to miss the grand opening of the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center," Cooper said in the video, the bit evidently filmed before the arena got its official name. "I can only imagine how impressed the French missionaries and explorers who were coming here as early as the late 1600s would be if they could see this incredibly modern facility."
For the big finish, Flowers invited the Femmes back onto the stage for one last number.
"We couldn't think of a better way to pay tribute to this town than to finish with this next song," Flowers said. And after the 1-2-3-4 click of drumsticks, the Killers and Femmes together launched into a giddy rendition of the "Laverne & Shirley" theme song, with Femmes' frontman Gordon Gano's shaky vocals humorously contrasting against Flowers' unabashedly cheesy cheer.
Not exactly your typical arena rock show finale. But if it was going to work anywhere, it could only work in Milwaukee. And that's why it was so perfect.
- There is one thing Fiserv Forum will really need to fix for future events: the spotty WiFi and cell connection. Posting to Instagram and Twitter was pretty easy out in the concourse, but practically impossible inside the seating bowl itself, and I talked to colleagues who experienced similar troubles.
- Talk about an awkward coincidence. When people walked into Fiserv Forum, dozens of TVs just happened to be tuned to an interview with Jason Kidd, who was fired as the Bucks coach in January.
- Aside from the "Laverne & Shirley" collab, the Femmes abided another request from Flowers, to perform "Gimme the Car," with Gano and Ritchie plugged into electric guitar and bass, giving the song a fuzzy, '90s stoner rock feel.
More on Music
Find out about the week's must-see shows, concert tickets and more in the newsletter "Piet Levy's Music Picks." Subscribe at jsonline.com/newsletters.
Piet talks about concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9).