Remember when Activision blew the lid of the STAPLES Center right at the start of E3 2010? Remember when Activision made themselves the talk of SXSW 2009 by staging a not-so secret performance by Metallica? We at mxdwn sure do. That’s why the launch event for Activision’s marquee title Call of Duty: Black Ops was a must-see event. The game itself looks jaw dropping for a military first-person shooter, but this time Activision had secured Metallica to perform at a private party in Hanger 8 of the Santa Monica Airport. The results? About what one might expect if the biggest band on the planet joined forces with the world’s most popular video game: raucous, decadent fun.
Update: Now with video from the event!
The crowd was filtered into the event through a series of private buses and shuttles. Fan club members, celebrities and media were escorted onto the airstrip in style presumably to keep random gate crashers from mobbing the event, but officially because apparently no one is allowed without escort on the air field. Upon arriving and passing the red carpet, a host of model-esque beauties decked out in thick-rimmed nerd regalia were present to offer a wide variety of free hors d’oeuvres. Mini burgers, baskets of fries and quesadilla strips were plentiful and the excited patrons crammed four open bars for all the free cocktails they could consume. DJ Tina T held down the DJ duties mixing pop, metal and hip-hop for a solid background mix.
In the center of the hanger three six-man teams of legitimate armed forces members squared off in the game that this party was set up to celebrate: Call of Duty: Black Ops. Onlookers could see almost photo real gameplay as the first-person dynamics of standard forward-facing shooters were brought to the heights of crisp realism. The action was a madcap relay of teamwork as sniper rifles, shotguns, machine guns and rocket launchers were all employed to eradicate the competition. A bit daunting to the average consumer, but twitch gamers will be elated to sink their teeth into this title. For those that remember the early days and firestorm popularity of Counterstrike, it’s a safe bet Call of Duty: Black Ops will end up being that same upper echelon of success for the modern generation.
Fed and liquored up, the crowd was then migrated to a second area where the stage was and the night’s main event would take place. For the first surprise of the night, Scrubs’ star Zach Braff came out to intro the event and served as the night’s MC. After making a few pleasant jokes to start things off he in turn introduced former California governor Gray Davis. Davis expressed his emphatic support for the cause of trying to create better job opportunities for veterans returning home from wartime active duty. He in turn introduced Activision’s CEO Bobby Kotick. Kotick expanded on the need to establish better job opportunities for the men and women exiting the armed forces and stated this night was as much about launching their fund called the Call of Duty Endowment as a way to help remedy the problem, as it was about the new game itself. He pledged that the first million dollars made on Call of Duty: Black Ops’ presales would be donated to this fund to help establish it. New Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg came out next and spoke a little on the highlights of the title, claiming the game has 25 million players worldwide. He stated, “This is the largest army in the world.” A short demonstration ended the intro with a brief match between one member each of the six armed forces (the Coast Guard won for those interested). The game’s new commercial was played and then LA Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant took to the stage to help present an oversized check for $1,000,000 to the cause.
The stage was now set for the metal titans Metallica to perform. Unlike when they surprised SXSW two years back where the crowd was filled with ravenous fans at an explosive level of frenzy, the crowd of gamers, fan club members and industry glitterati seemed a little aloof until the house lights came down and the reality of what was about to happen sank in. The band took to the stage with the relentless assault of fan-favorite “Creeping Death.” The crowd chanted along without prompting the song’s bridge of “Die / Die / Die.” Lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield shined most brightly at first, looking confident and effortless, leaning slightly forward in his trademark stance. It’s easy to forget just how talented he is, but he really does make it look easy. Suicidal Tendencies export Robert Trujillo had the next move blasting out the late Cliff Burton’s famous bass distortion trick to open “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The simple start-and-stop timing of this song crystallizes live, playing less like rock 101 and more like stadium shaking roar.
Load-era track “Fuel” was next, depicting quite possibly the poppiest side of Metallica to be heard in this performance. Hetfield greeted the crowd and offered that this night would be a mix of old and new tracks. It turned out to be untrue though, as only “Cyanide” from Death Magnetic was played a few songs later. Instead they went straight into the classic …And Justice for All track “Harvester of Sorrow.” This is more than a bit daunting to behold as the interplay between Hetfield, Trujillo, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Lars Ulrich is nimble and flawless throughout. The crowd reaches “eating out of their hand” dimensions by the third verse. The biggest surprise of the night came next in “Fade to Black.” The sullen epic triumphed in the drama it unfolds as it weaves its way to the thrashing finale.
Hetfield quipped, “I just want to apologize beforehand if this song is too heavy for you,” as the band promptly chugged out the opening chords to “Sad But True.” Perhaps the only blemish in an otherwise masterful show, some small technical glitches began to erode the immaculate balance of the band’s sound. Hetfield could be seen making numerous requests to stagehands through the duration. Undaunted though, the one-two punch of “One” and “Master of Puppets” ensured fan satisfaction. The patient crescendo of “One” built to the pummeling double bass drum rhythms Ulrich is famous for, and “Master of Puppets” showed the full worth in sonic pacing, leaving the orchestral breakdown of the song intact.
The band closed with their long-used cover of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” and their breakout 1991 single “Enter Sandman.” “Sandman’s” infamous call of “Exit Light / Enter Night / Take my hand / off to never never land” rang out, cheered by the crowd. It might not have been the right choice for an average group of hardcore Metallica fans to end the set, but here, with many more casual fans and gaming enthusiasts, it was just right. The association tying the band to the game might not have been terribly clear, but it did make for a stellar party. If the care and love put into this event is any indication of what the game itself will be like, gamers are in for a treat for sure.
Images and videos to come soon!
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Harvester of Sorrow”
“Fade to Black”
“Sad But True”
“Master of Puppets”
“Stone Cold Crazy”