How Metallica secretly rocked a tiny Chicago venue – on a “need-to-know” basis

Earlier this week, the iconic metallers played an ultra-exclusive gig at the 1100-capacity Metro. NME gets the inside story from venue owner Joe Shanahan

The Metro in Chicago was one of the first businesses closed (and among the last to re-open) because of the pandemic, but after being fully open for just two months, its staff pulled off one of the biggest coups in the 1,100-capacity club’s 39-year-history by hosting Metallica for a secret show on Monday (September 20).

The origin of the show began when Tony DiCioccio, longtime Metallica insider, reached out to Metro owner Joe Shanahan on August 26 via text message from a mutual friend. “They contacted us,” Shanahan recalls a few days later at G-Man, another bar he owns that is adjacent to Metro. At this point, Shanahan didn’t know DiCioccio was reaching out for Metallica: “First thing he said was: ‘Is your joint open on September 20?’ I said yes, and asked if he wanted a hold for that date, not knowing who the band was at this point.”

The two talked on the phone and Shanahan was told that Metallica was looking for a venue to play a secret show: “I picked up the telephone and he said it was Metallica.  They wanted us to keep it under the radar. I didn’t even tell staff, it was really on a need-to-know basis.”

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Shanahan tells NME that four people ultimately knew about the show, including his senior talent buyer and production manager: “Those pieces had to be in place for putting together the offer, putting together the production. Because while it was house sound and lights, they did bring in some additional PA to beef up the sound a little bit.”

Shanahan says that the band, who played at Metro in 1983 shortly after their ‘Kill ‘Em All’ debut, did another “secret show” at in their hometown of San Franscisco – at the 500-seat Independent venue on September 16 – and wanted to do a similar show in Chicago.

Just 72 hours after DiCioccio made contact with Shanahan, the gig was set. They would keep it on the down-low until the day of the event, then would announce that tickets would be sold in the form of a bracelet – and concert goers would have to show up at the Metro box office to buy one. They sold only one per person with proof of COVID-19 vaccination for $19.83, a tribute to the year Metallica last played Metro. “We got crafty and said the 17 cents would be a facility fee to round it up to 20 bucks, because we’re not giving back dimes and pennies,” Shanahan says. “It was a play on it – it worked.”

And although capacity is 1100, the band and Shanahan agreed to cap it at 850 to allow for band guests and Metro employees to attend as well.“I was really excited because it was kind of a full circle thing between the band and the venue. We’re celebrating our 40th Anniversary next year,” Shanahan explains. “We were very honored and very grateful that they picked Metro to be the place.”

He also says Metallica wanted to keep the price low to give back to their longtime fans: “I haven’t done the full settlement yet, but I don’t think they made any money. They paid all expenses but it wasn’t their intention to make money. They could have charged $500 a ticket; they could have charged anything they wanted.”

Over the years, Shanahan has hosted thousands of shows at Metro and Double-Door, a bar that closed in 2017 (they plan to reopen at a different location later this year). He’s hosted two epic “secret shows”, the first being Prince doing two nights of secret shows at Metro (then known as the Cabaret Metro) in 1993, and the being The Rolling Stones at the 500-capacity Double Door in 1997.

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Reminded of how ticket seekers clogged streets when The Rolling Stones played the Double Door, Shanahan notes: “I might have learned a thing or two from The Rolling Stones and applied it to the Metallica show.”

Indeed, on Monday the announcement of the show went out around noon but some savvy music fans began lining up in the morning: “A geo-targeted email went out to the [band’s] fan club and then the word just got out. People were driving down Clark Street in the morning and saw the Metallica cases being rolled out of a semi-trailer and started asking what was going on. The marquee still hadn’t been changed yet; it still said whatever the show was the night before.”

“I woke up the next day and was like, ‘Holy Shit – that really happened!’”

He adds that he had reached out to the Chicago police and fire departments, as well as the city council – a strategy that worked. The crowd on Monday lining up for tickets did not block traffic, as in 1997 when The Rolling Stones played at Double Door. “This is not my first rodeo,” Shanahan tells NME with a smile. “Each show is an individual and needs special care. I think our company really did an exceptional job of producing a professional event, a safe event. We didn’t sell up to our capacity.”

After about an hour, the bracelets were gone. Interestingly, some Metro staff who had already told management that they couldn’t work Monday, for various reasons, suddenly got over their ailments and cancelled their appointments once they learned Metallica was coming. Shanahan laughs: “We told the staff the day before. Some had told our production manager that they couldn’t work on Monday and then, when they found out what the band was, they were suddenly available. I thought that was quite unusual…”

For this show, only the lucky ones who got in line and purchased a ticket who got in. The so-called VIPs who usually pepper the best seats in the house were persona non grata for the show, and even the news media – NME included – were denied their coveted press passes for the occasion.

Metallica in 1983, the year in which they last played The Metro

The band also sold special T-shirts designed to commemorate their 1983 show and the surprise show on Monday, Shanahan says: “They made a special T-shirt and on that shirt it had the original Metro logo that I actually designed. I hadn’t seen it on a T-shirt since the ’80s. They found it and put it with a beautiful rendering of our building with one of their Metallica monsters coming out from behind it. They designed it, printed it and brought it. It was a gig shirt, a one of a kind shirt just for that show.”

Additionally, the Metro designed a limited-edition poster of a screeching cat with the Metallica logo for the show in which the band agreed to donate the proceeds to a local food pantry: “What was wonderful is that the band accepted an offer I had to make a donation to Lakeview Pantry, so proceeds of the sale of the posters went to the pantry. It was a very generous gesture by Metallica.”

As it got closer to showtime, television news crews lined the street, and concert-goers were buzzing with anticipation. Underscoring the excitement, Shanahan says: “When you think about the size of Metro and the size of this band, you have to think that it’s a pretty potent cocktail.”

“Live, the band push each other a little bit – when you’re this close, you see it”

That night, Metallica came out to Ennio Morricone’s ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ – an intro the band has used for decades, and launched in ‘Whiplash’, one of the songs they played in at the 1983 show. After they’d rocked the crowd for 90 minutes, the improbable event was over, but the buzz remained. For Shanahan, a veteran of thousands of shows, it stood out.

“They are strong, live artists,” he says. “I know what those records sound like but live, it’s bone-crushing good. Kirk is an unbelievable guitar player. The physicality of James is amazing. I think the way that Lars and Robert work together, they kind of push each other a little bit. It’s fun to see that and you can’t see that necessarily in the stadium shows but when you’re that close, you see it. They really are an incredible American band.”

He added that the next morning, he had to pinch himself: “I woke up the next day and was like, ‘Holy shit – that really happened!’ We had no incidents, no problems. My staff was so ecstatic to work on this show.”

Metallica played

‘Whiplash’

‘Ride The Lightning’

‘Harvester of Sorrow’

‘Cyanide’

‘Through The Never’

‘One’

‘Sad But True’

‘Moth Into Flame’

‘Sanitarium’

‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’

‘Whiskey in the Jar’

‘Fade To Black’

‘Master of Puppets’

‘Hardwired to Self Destruct’

‘Fuel’

‘Seek and Destroy’

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