Metallica messes with Texas

Rock vets play secret show at South By Southwest

AUSTIN -- During the encore break of Metallica's performance Friday night at South By Southwest, one fan standing in the dirt-floor venue behind Stubb's barbecue restaurant noted, "This is SO not roots music."

That's for sure. The headbanging quartet and its brutal, wake-the-neighbors set certainly seem the antithesis of the annual music festival's (outdated) image as a haven for indigenous Americana, but frontman James Hetfield took pains to align the group with the spirit of the event.

After noting facetiously that Metallica's first-ever SXSW appearance -- part of a one-day blitz to promote its new "Guitar Hero" game -- was "the best-kept secret in rock 'n' roll," he told the crowd that "we're very glad to ... be apart of the vibe here. Live music is where we're at. We've been road dogs since ... I left high school and didn't look back." Hetfield also introduced Metallica as "a young struggling band from Norway" -- then apologized for his bad accent.

The only struggle on Friday was for fans to get into the show. Despite the semi-covert nature, Metallica's gig was common knowledge and managed to hijack the lion's share of SXSW attention during the day. The various day parties were peppered with conversations about how early one would have to get to Stubb's that evening to actually get into the gates.

What the lucky 2,500 or so got was a truncated -- and pyro-less -- edition of the show Metallica has been playing on its world tour to promote 2008's "Death Magnetic." It was also the group's first performance in nearly two weeks, after a Hetfield illness forced the postponement of shows in Sweden and brought the band back home early.

But the concert didn't suffer for any of that at all. Tearing through a 90-minute, 13-song set that featured two "Death Magnetic" songs ("Broken, Beat and Scarred" and "Cyanide") and nothing later than 1991's "Metallica" (aka "The Black Album"), the members of Metallica were in fine form and clearly enjoying the chance to play a smaller venue rather than on the large stage they've been trucking to arenas. There was a greater sense of interaction between them throughout the night and an intensity to the performance that went beyond the formidable volume of the music.

Metallica mostly mined its '80s era during the show, starting with "Creeping Death," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Harvester of Sorrows" and "One" before breaking into the new songs -- and the blitzing through the likes of "Sad but True," "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," "Master of Puppets," "Blackened" and encore versions of Budgie's "Breadfan," "Whiplash" -- which Hetfield introduced as "a song about how you feel tomorrow" -- and a lusty "Seek and Destroy," complete with full crowd sing-along. Noticeably missing: "Enter Sandman," Metallica's biggest hit.

Hetfield remained gracious in closing the show, thanking the SXSW crowd "for letting us hang out and join your party" and asking, "Have you seen some good bands here? Hope we're one of them." He and his bandmates could rest assured that was indeed the case -- and drummer Lars Ulrich certainly made the locals happy when he promised Metallica would return to Texas in September, the first firm acknowledgment of another U.S. leg of the tour later this year.

Here's Metallica's South By Southwest set list:

"Creeping Death"
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
"Harvester of Sorrows"
"Broken, Beat and Scarred"
"Sad But True"
"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"
"Master of Puppets"
(second encore)
"Seek and Destroy"
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