Oh why not.
SXSW Friday Night, March 20
“Surprise!” says James Hetfield, acknowledging the lack of same. Given Metallica fans’ historically rational and peaceful responses to disappointment, it would’ve been way more entertaining perhaps if they’d not shown up, given the rampant rumor-mongering these past few days over that cryptic “special appearances by members of Metallica” line added to posters for the party celebrating their imminent Guitar Hero game, which I may actually buy now, given that tonight they played “Sanitarium,” causing all the normally demure gentlemen around me to start yelling various strange things in my ear.
Gentleman #1, Immediate Left: “[High-pitched squeals.]”
Gentleman #2, Back Left: “I’ve gotten like five boners since I came in here.”
Gentleman #3, Back Right: “That’s what the fuck I’m talking about.”
Metallica is transcendent tonight. Which is not to say their 90-minute set is perfect — “Sad But True” generally sounds better when everyone’s using the same time signature, boys — but the almost psychotic state of joy they inspire in this raucous crowd that could clearly give a shit about the Silversun Pickups set beforehand and the DJ Shadow set planned for afterward is something to behold. An actual full-length concert, with actual fans! “One” alone nearly causes a riot; all the cartoon-manic wheedly deedly provided by Lars and Kirk and Jovially Growling Bassist Guy and homicidally growling James himself imbues macho excess with biblical power and importance. Bands that clearly don’t need SXSW for anything that play SXSW anyway can wind up sounding somewhat desperate and sad (see R.E.M., possibly Kanye), but tonight is just the best-case scenario for the thousands of middling bands and the fickle fans at least momentarily contemplating loving them. This is what they, and we, aspire to.
A word regarding our sponsors: You can argue that the Guitar Hero phenomenon devalues Kirk Hammett’s societal contribution somewhat, reducing his enraged, volcanic solos to clinical torrents of little colored notes to be precisely, dispassionately duplicated by shut-in 13-and/or-30-year-olds, but Xbox-related muscle memory makes up 99.8 percent of my affection for anything on Death Magnetic, though we are inconvenienced by a selection from that album only twice tonight, back to back, and then it’s on to “Master of Puppets,” etc., back to losing our minds. This is the first show I’ve ever been to where I’ve actually considered buying a beer just to throw it as high in the air as possible. “This is a song about how you’ll feel tomorrow,” Hetfield barks. “It’s called ‘Whiplash.'”