At first glance, the rock concert looks like any other, but beside the leather jackets, jeans and band T-shirts, there are signs that this show is different.
Counselors are here, wearing badges. People are carrying white roses, and a girl — visibly upset — sits on the stairs. A few concertgoers shuffle around on crutches.
They’ve all come to hear the Eagles of Death Metal, a rock group, which returned to play in Paris on Tuesday, three months after terrorists attacked their concert at the Bataclan, killing 89 of the band’s “friends.”
Front man Jesse Hughes and the rest of the band took to the stage to massive cheers. EODM opened with the song “I Only Want You,” stopping midway to bow heads and to ask for a moment of silence.
Hours before the show started, Hughes had told CNN the concert wasn’t going to be a regular performance: “It’s much more than just a show.”
He said he hoped the gig would be a kind of therapy — both for him and for the band’s fans: “I always lose myself in the music, but I’m going to lose myself in the kids, we’re going to get lost in each other.”
The sellout performance at the Olympia was expected to be packed with some 2,800 fans, including 900 survivors and relatives of those killed at the Bataclan on November 13 last year. The raid, by men armed with guns and suicide vests, was one of a coordinated series of attacks on restaurants, cafes and venues including the Stade de France, which left a total of 130 people dead and scores more injured.
A team of 30 psychologists were at the venue in case anyone in the audience was overwhelmed by the emotion of the evening. Security was tight to prevent any new attacks.
EODM said it did not plan to play “Kiss the Devil,” the song they were performing as the gunfire began, out of concern for those who were there that night. Instead, Hughes and co-founder Josh Homme said that when it came to picking the set list, they would play “the right ones” — likely to include “I Love You All The Time,” the song that they said had become a “rallying cry” in the wake of the attack.
Recalling the night terror walked into their Paris show on November 13, Hughes said his first thought, as shots began to ring out around the concert venue, was: “We’re in trouble. I knew exactly what it was. You could feel it. I’m from America, I’m a hillbilly, I’ve been around firearms my whole life — and I knew it was all bad.”
As he ran around backstage trying to find his girlfriend and bandmates, Hughes said one of the gunmen had him in his sights, and that he was only saved because “the gun was too big, he couldn’t fit it through the doorway — it hit the doorframe.” Watching his fans gunned down in cold blood in front of him was, he said, “the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life, and that I think I will see.”
Fellow band founder Josh Homme, who was not in Paris for the concert in November, said he had found out about the massacre in a text message from a friend who was at the Bataclan.
“I wish I had the right consonants and vowels so I could make the right sound for that feeling,” he said, trying to express his horror at the news.
The pair said the band itself was not the target of the terrorists, but the whole of Paris, young people enjoying a Friday night out in the city’s bars, restaurants and venues.
“Good guys are always targets,” said Hughes.
But the band said that they’ve been “inspired” by the way the French people have “come together” in the wake of the attacks. And they are determined to return and finish what they’d started.
“We were raised by decent people to be decent people — and besides, we were interrupted in the middle of an amazing rock and roll show,” said Hughes.
Hughes refused to be drawn on his previous controversial comments suggesting that France’s strict gun control laws had failed to stop the attack. When asked about his stance on guns Monday, Hughes told the French channel iTELE: “Did your French gun control stop a single f****** person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging headfirst into the face of death with their firearms.”
France has strict gun control laws with heavy restrictions and licensing requirements.
“I don’t really care about guns,” he told CNN. “My weapon is a guitar.”
The band said they spent the night before the comeback gig with 80 Bataclan survivors, dancing, playing darts and having fun.
“It was beautiful,” said Homme. “Were there tragic stories? Yeah, from everyone, but the gathering was not focused on that.” Instead, he said, “It brought a lot of people together … A little bit of dancing goes a long way.”
And Hughes said he’s determined not to give in to hatred or anger. “Nothing’s really changed for me. I still love people, I still love dancing, I still love rock and roll.”