Six times huge bands have secretly performed under fake names

Musician Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs on VH1 Storytellers on October 28, 2009 in Culver City, California
(Image credit: John Shearer/Getty Images)

The Foo Fighters' appearance at this year's Glastonbury Festival – under the mysterious pseudonym The Churnups – was perhaps the worst kept secret in the history of secret shows. 

It's not the first time Foo Fighters have deployed musical subterfuge and played under a different name – in 2014 they performed a series of intimate shows billed simply as The Holy Shits. They're also not the only major band who've tried it, either – from Green Day to Metallica, it's become something of a rite of passage for huge artists to go cloak and dagger and sneak onto a stage in front of a mere couple of hundred people.

Here, six times superstar bands have adopted a disguise to play secret shows.

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Vertigo – Metallica (see also Damage Inc, Dehann)

When Seattle’s Metal Church headlined London’s prestigious Marquee Club on May 11, 1990, the only clue as to the identity of their support band was a small Danish flag tucked into their drumkit. So you can only imagine the frenzy that broke out when four familiar-looking men in black strolled onto the club’s stage for their first gig of the year, designed as a muscle-loosening warm-up for a short European arena tour later that same month. This, in fact, was not the first time that the San Franciscan band had appeared as an unannounced support act for Metal Church: Jason Newsted’s very first gig as a Metallica member was supporting Metal Church at the Country Club, in Reseda, California on November 8, 1986.

The Four Skins – Motley Crue

No-one has ever accused Motley Crue of being the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their decision to warm up for their 1991 Monsters of Rock show at Donington with an August 14 secret gig at the Marquee using a pseudonym dangerously similar to the name of a notorious East London Oi! Band (The 4-Skins) wasn’t the smartest move. Fortunately, an anticipated influx of pissed-off skinheads didn’t materialise, and those crammed into the Charing Cross sweatbox were treated to a 13 song set from the LA quartet. A special souvenir T-shirt printed up for the night boasted that the Crue were “Unannounced, Unprofessional, Unrehearsed and Ungodly Loud”: we’d have expected nothing less.

Charlotte and The Harlots – Iron Maiden

On August 20, 1988 Iron Maiden headlined the Monsters of Rock festival in front of a record crowd of 107,000 metalheads. Three nights earlier, at Queen Mary’s College in London they faced a rather smaller assembly, to run through a 19 song set as a dress rehearsal for the event. Bruce Dickinson promised that the band would look and sound better at Donington, but for the lucky few in attendance a lifetime of bragging rights more than made up for any rustiness.

Hornets Attack Victor Mature – REM (see also Bingo Hand Job, It Crawled From The South)

Even before they became one of the biggest bands in the world, R.E.M.’s upbringing in the US underground rock community instilled a sense of mischief in the quartet, who made something of a habit of road-testing new material under false names. One of the first such instances occurred when Michael Stipe’s band booked a February 1985 gig at the Uptown Lounge in their hometown of Athens, Georgia, claiming to be a new band from Nashville with a sound influenced in equal measure by Jerry Lee Lewis and Joy Division. “God knows how we got the date,” guitarist Peter Buck later admitted. Oddly, a real band using the HAVM name existed on the early ‘80s LA punk scene, but whatever contribution they might have made to music has been lost to history.

Ten Ton Hammer – Machine Head

Robb Flynn likes Heavy Metal. Robb Flynn also likes alcohol. Put the two together, and you get Ten Ton Hammer, Machine Head’s uproarious and hugely entertaining metal covers band. At their July 3, 2002 show at London’s Garage the band’s set list included tracks by Queens Of The Stone Age (Feel Good Hit Of The Summer), Metallica (Creeping Death), Motley Crue (Live Wire), Korn (Blind) and Pantera (Walk, obviously…): when they returned for their second London show a full decade later, Priest’s Hellbent For Leather, Slayer’s Postmortem and, most surprisingly, Foo Fighters’ Everlong were among the new additions to the TTH repertoire. A good time was most assuredly had by all.

The Lemmys – Metallica (again!)

The occasion of Lemmy’s 50th birthday was always going to be a fairly raucous and messy affair. It became even more so when four men with fake mutton chop moustaches and freshly-drawn Ace Of Spades tattoos strolled onto the stage of the Whisky a Go-Go on December 14, 1995 and tore through a six song set, beginning with Overkill and ending with (We Are) The Road Crew. “That was the biggest compliment anyone has ever paid me,” Lemmy later stated. “But they got their tattoos on the wrong arm, every one of them.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.