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Ryan Cooper

SXSW 2009: Metallica

By March 26, 2009

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It was the worst-kept secret at SXSW.

A week prior to our even leaving for SXSW, I was shown a schedule for Stubb’s in Austin, listing a lineup that consisted of the Silversun Pickups, followed by the Guitar Hero Metallica Competition, and then a set by a band called “Volsung,” a band listed as being from “Somewhere, Norway.” At that point, it was generally becoming accepted that the metal act had a surprise planned.

It was confirmed when we got down there, and their PR people got in touch with us, offering us access.

When I was offered the opportunity to interview and see Metallica, I was definitely taken aback. I mean, these guys are rock stars, right? How removed from punk rock is all of this? So, my first inclination was to ignore this opportunity regardless of the magnitude of it.

Then I asked around. Several members of several punk bands playing at SXSW (I am permitting anonymity for these guys as agreed) were dumbstruck that I would even consider turning it down. Even if they were not fans today, how many hardcore bands cite albums like Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets as essential influences to their sound? I’ll answer that. A lot.

And the fact that Metallica would be there, at SXSW, playing a surprise show at a small venue, and taking only the standard $450 that all of the other bands were paid, didn’t really hit me as superstar behavior.

So we went.

And they rocked.

In true rock star fashion, the band did manage to eat up an entire day, but this was due to media events and the like, along with their arriving at the hotel over an hour late (from the airport) and while it’s true that the band seemed to have more assistants than I’ve had pairs of shoes, Kirk Hammet was really cool in interview, and the band really seemed to care more about giving the crowd a great show than anything else.

After taking the stage, reassuring the last few who had packed into Stubb’s with the hope that the badly kept secret would be true, Hetfield addressed the loose-lipped rumor with a joking, “Surprise, surprise! You’re all surprised, right?” before attempting a bad Norwegian accent that really sounded more like an even worse Chinese accent, and then shrugging it all off, proceeded to rock the place into rubble.

Their 90-minute set was largely missing the band’s new material, focused heavily on their old stuff, making me incredibly happy, and it seemed like the crowd as well. They opened with “Creeping Death,” and only played two of their latest, instead blasting through “One,” “Master of Puppets” and a list of what can only be called Metallica’s greatest hits, and by that I mean their songs that were great, but not necessarily commercially.

At the end of it all, I was so glad to cross over into rockstardom for once. Without these guys, there would be a lot missing from music. And despite how I may feel about how what these monsters of rock may or may not have become, the fact is, they have been somewhere that all bands have been, and it was through the production of music that is raw, brutal, powerful and beautiful that put them where they are now, and nobody can slight them for that.

As Hetfield yelled from the stage, “God bless loud live music.”

Indeed.

Photos © Nicole Lucas

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