- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - Invading South By Southwest, Metallica attempted to pose as one of the hundreds of smaller bands there just hoping to get a record deal.

“We’re a young band from Norway and we want to get signed,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield told the audience at the heavy metal band’s SXSW performance Friday night.

It was a widely expected but not officially announced show at a venue (Stubb’s) that for a band like Metallica is downright minuscule, holding about 2,100 people. The band played for slightly more than an hour, performing both classics and, as Hetfield called it, “new stuff” off their 2008 album “Death Magnetic” _ a disc widely considered a return to form for the 28-year-old group.

But despite Hetfield’s mock camouflage (and poor Norwegian accent), Metallica stood out on the SXSW landscape Friday. With more than 50 million albums sold, Metallica has probably outsold the other 1,900-plus bands at SXSW combined.

Droves of die-hard fans, catching wind of the rumors, lined up all day outside Stubb’s, where Metallica 18-wheelers parked outside.

Metallica was in Austin for the day to promote their new “Guitar Hero” video game. To be released March 29, it’s the latest rock star simulator dedicated to a single band following last year’s “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.”

It may seem like a lot of fanfare for a videogame but “Guitar Hero” and its rival “Rock Band” have proven to be one of few growing revenue streams in a declining music industry.

In an interview before the show, Hetfield said the band wanted to play at SXSW _ an old-school, small live show _ to balance the promotion of the very contemporary, tech-savvy “Guitar Hero: Metallica.”

“Here is the grass roots. Here is the basis of why we like music. Artists are getting up in front of 2,100 people and giving it what they got,” Hetfield said of SXSW. “We’ve always wanted to support live music. We’ve been road dogs since the day after high school.”

Now, Hetfield laughs at the idea that Metallica _ who, in one of their most popular songs, sing: “Master of puppets, I’m pulling your strings” _ have effectively been made digital puppets for kids to play with.

“When (drummer Lars Ulrich) and I were sitting in a garage in Norwalk, California, bashing out a horrible version of `Hit the Lights,’ we were not thinking that this was going to be happening anytime soon,” Hetfield said. “I’ve watched people play us. They’re pretty good at us.”

Hetfield has been more interested in observing his three children _ ages 7,8 and 10 _ play their father.

At the prospect of playing the game as Ulrich, Hetfield laughs and groans: “Good Lord. We’ve done some role-playing swapping in therapy already.” (In the 2004 documentary “Some Kind of Monster,” the band famously resorted to therapy sessions to heal rifts between each other.)

Instead, Hetfield will stick with real performance.

“Have you seen some good bands here?” Hetfield asked the crowd Friday before exiting the stage. “Hope we’re one of them.”


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