By Whitney Pastorek
March 21, 2009 at 12:03 PM EDT

It was the worst-kept secret of the week: Activision’s Guitar Hero: Metallica premiere at Stubbs Friday night would not simply feature a “special appearance by members of” the veteran metal band, as the posters suggested, but would in fact consist of a big ol’ rock show involving instruments free of primary-colored buttons, and men made not of pixels but skin. SXSW is infamous for producing outlandish rumors — omg Tom Morello and David Byrne are playing a set of Pink Floyd covers at the Perez Hilton party tonight! — but the enormous trucks and trailers parked outside the humble barbecue restaurant were all the proof anyone needed that this one would turn out to be head-bangingly true, and kids were lined up pretty much all day to get in. “Surprise,” drawled frontman James Hetfield sarcastically as the band took the stage, wasting little time before using “Creeping Death” to whip everyone into the obligatory chorus of “Die! Die! Die!” … but it was a cheerful chorus, as fans and band alike had a tough time wiping the awkward wow-you’re-close-to-me-right-now grins off their faces.

After a quick demonstration of the new video game courtesy of three contest winners introduced as “the luckiest virgins you will ever see in your life,” the real Metallica motored through a fairly predictable 90 minute set of songs for the 2000+ fans, journalists, Sandra Bullocks, and formerly dreadlocked members of N’Sync who packed the backyard, as well as the hundreds who didn’t make it through the gates but lined streets and nearby rooftops to catch a distant whiff. Oldies like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Sad But True” flanked newer material like “Cyanide” with everything at its usual gut-rumbling level of intensity, and it was hard not to giggle halfway through when Hetfield asked the crowd if they were “ready for heavy,” as though he’d been playing Colbie Caillat covers or something before. Could the sweetness of the southland and the elbow-rubbing culture of SXSW turn one of rock’s tetchiest bands all hippie and soft? Nah. I am proud to announce that as soon as “Seek and Destroy” came to its inevitable end, the four members of Metallica walked off stage, out the back door of Stubbs, and into four separate black SUVs that pulled away before half the folks assembled on the sidewalk could get their flip cams turned on. Guess that means me and Lars aren’t hitting the taco truck later.

Pictures have disappeared from this blog thanks to a server transfer adventure, but do visit the author’s Flickr page for photographic proof that what Hetfield called a “young, struggling band from Norway” might make it big someday…

Photo Credit: Whitney Pastorek/