I'm sure Metallica was great. They were good when I saw them at the LA Forum a few months back, where the dudes in the pit were in their typical testostero-frenzied state. And the indulgent 45-minute soundcheck that preceded their Stubb's outdoor show sure made it seem as though they were going pour out some serious fucking riffage loudly. A roadie bumped on the kick drum for five minutes, then moved to the snare, then to the tom, then back to the bass drum, then snare and bass together. Then another roadie started working on the guitars in combination with vocals. Metallica has many guitars, and he checked a lot of them.
Thing is, they apparently did all this shit earlier in the day, and inconvenienced a lot of people in the process. And, most important, this isn't Madison Square Garden or Dodger Stadium; it's the back yard of an Austin club, a lot of us have been waiting a long time on gravel, and there are 500 other bands gigging tonight. Some of us don't feel like devoting a whole night to seeing one band at the expense of missing something surprising and new somewhere else. Yes, it's Metallica. But that doesn't make it right.
Seeing Metallica at South by Southwest is, to me, like going to Cannes to see Transformers 2. It's an insult to the festival, it's arrogant of the band (and I said the same thing about REM last year), and it eclipses all the other musicians who have been saving their money and practicing their asses off for the past year to get to Austin and give her a go. Can you imagine being a metal band who's traveled thousands of miles to play the festival, only to find out that Metallica's playing the same time slot as you?
Fuck that. Yes, the spoils of the riches and all that nonsense, but does that have to include us waiting around while you tweak your system AGAIN while we stand on gravel? Metallica has been sitting all day in their cushy thrones somewhere fancy, dammit. They flew into Austin, held a conference at the Four Seasons, drove a tour bus from the hotel to Stubb's rather than taking a golf cart or a bike caddy. Those are the things that Rock Stars do, and Metallica did them. But our legs are tired, we've been drinking, and despite the pleasant company, we're here to see music — not watch the Guitar Hero world champions get ridiculed and embarrassed by some fat-ass radio DJ while roadies behind them polish Lars Ulrich's double bass-kicks.
Long story short: as you can tell, I got pissed after standing and waiting and knowing that I'd be missing some of the Southern Lord showcase down the street if Metallica wasn't punctual. (We all know rock stars aren't punctual, but figured the band would understand that in this atmosphere that there's a lot of other shit going on tonight.) So after getting agitated and, sure, self-righteous, I decided to ditch. As I was leaving, the doormen looked at me incredulously; thousands were standing outside trying to get a glimpse, and there's me leaving, as though I'm exiting the frickin' Promised Land or something. That only emboldened me; are Metallica that much more worthy or deserving of my time than the other musicians.
As I was leaving, I texted Weekly freelancer Jeff Weiss, who was at Cedar Street waiting on Grizzly Bear: “Fuckn metallica is wasting my time.”
His response: “Isn't that what they've done since '87?”
LOL and yes, I'm outta here. Passing Metallica's tour bus, there were hundreds of fans and looky-loos trying to get a glimpse of the band, who were descending from their tour bus. Howls and shouts, and I kept walking down Red River.
Emo's Annex, two blocks away: The Southern Lord Records showcase, featuring Wolves in the Throne Room, Pelican, Black Cobra, It's Casual and three other bands either on or affiliated with the Hollywood label's roster. Southern Lord, if you're like 90 percent of the fans down the street at Stubb's and can't name any of 2009's hottest metal acts, is one of the most respected and prescient metal labels in the world. Their bands, including label owners Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley's SunnO))) project, Japanese mantra metallurgists Boris, drone geniuses Earth, and legendary LA doom metal band St. Vitus (whose early records where put out on Black Flag label SST), have pushed the genre in directions unimaginable in Metallica's prime — which, for the record, was Master of Puppets.
They're the real deal basically, and despite the clusterfuck a few blocks away, I glide straight into the tent, where two-piece math-metal yowlers Black Cobra, of San Francisco, is freakin' a small but overjoyed crowd. Think about it: Metallica is playing down the street, and these dudes moshing seem giddy. It's like knowing that the Beatles are playing at Hollywood Bowl but opting to go see the Dave Clark Five at Boardner's. Or something.
Black Cobra: Loud as fuck. Fast. And best: One Gibson Les Paul, three amps behind him, and one simple but totally thumping Ludwig drum kit. No guitar racks here. No roadies swapping out guitars. The band had 15 minutes to set up, another five for a soundcheck, and then they started, and the longhairs banged headz and flashed the devil horns. The pit was ferocious if tiny, but there weren't enough people to really support any crowd surfing.
I left to go see Grizzly Bear offer the polar opposite of heavy metal, cleansed my palette with the beautiful harmonies of the band (and, especially, the guest appearance by Beach House's Victoria Legrand), and then returned to see a few Crystal Stilts songs at Emo's Jr. On the way back to the hotel, the Southern Lord showcase was still killing at 1 am. Wolves in the Throne Room had finished (I regret missing them), and the amazing instrumental band Pelican, recent signings to Southern Lord after releasing great stuff on Hydra Head, was delivering this freakish blend of metal, grunge and punk, like the Misfits mixed with Dinosaur Jr. mixed with, yes, Metallica. It was beautiful. It was real. It was totally unpretentious. And it didn't need bells, whistles, 45 minute sound checks or arrogance to pull off. Just, yes, the rock.
Editor's note: We mistakenly wrote that It's Casual was signed to Southern Lord; they are not. We've corrected the text above