The worst-kept secret of the week was Metallica's performance at Stubb's on Friday night. Promotional events for the band's forthcoming 'Guitar Hero Metallica' video game were scheduled weeks ago, and it seemed only logical that the band would perform. Especially when the band showed up in Austin to talk to the media about the game, which sees a release on March 29.
I talked to guitarist and singer James Hetfield about the game. (Video is coming soon.) He told me that a Guitar Hero branding of Metallica's music was only natural, because of overlap between the band's fans and the gamer crowd. He also told me that he's not very good at the game, because it's nothing like playing an actual guitar.
When Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello was on Soundcheck last fall, he described the imaging process that created his Guitar Hero avatar. Hetfield confirmed that he did indeed wear a body-scanning catsuit for extended periods of time, and that it was his first time basically wearing a leotard. (Note to Activision: very interested in these photos.)
After the interview, I played the game with two developers. It features about 45 songs from the Metallica catalog, plus tracks by Queen, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters and others. In addition to rocking a replica of Hetfield's 'Truckster' guitar, you can sing or play bass or drums ('Guitar Hero World Tour' added instruments last fall to keep pace with rival game Rock Band). Metallica purists can add a second kick pedal (not pictured) to the drum set simulate Lars Ulrich's double-bass drumming.
I selected the song 'One,' from the oh-so-excellent 1988 album '...And Justice For All,' and played it on the easy setting so I didn't look like a complete fool in front of colleagues. (I'll admit it.) One of the game's developers played drums on a hard setting next to me. When I tried to ask him about his job, he politely informed me it was extremely tough to play and talk at the same time. Fair enough.
After the press junket was over (read New York Times critic Ben Sisario's description of it -- it's dead-on), the band did perform at Stubb's last night to no surprise. I didn't go to the show, opting instead to attend a screening of the independent film Four Boxes, starring Justin Kirk of the Showtime series 'Weeds.' But after the movie, I arrived at Stubb's in time to catch the band playing 'Blackened,' listening at the back fence with about 100 fans.