This Is What Went Down When Eagles Of Death Metal Returned To Paris
Jesse Hughes’ band makes emotional and triumphant French comeback.
I’m standing outside Paris’ Olympia Theatre, trying to explain -in piss-poor French - to a heavily-armed man that I need to get to the box office to pick up my press pass for tonight’s gig.
The problem? In order to get to the box office, and past the guy with the machine gun, I need that press pass. I try explaining to him that I’m a guest, that I’m working, that I’m actually a friend of the Eagles of Death Metal. He looks me squarely in the eye, and tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m not getting past him.
“If you do not have accreditation then you cannot come inside,” he says. “You need to go and stand over there”, pointing to the other side of the street.
He’s not fucking about.
On February 16, the Eagles of Death Metal returned to Paris to play their first full show in the city since the terrorist siege on Le Bataclan, which claimed the lives of 89 people, including the band’s merchandise manager Nick Alexander.
“This date been marked on our calendars for quite some time now,” drummer Julian Dorio emailed me the day before the band landed in Paris. “Three months and three days to be exact. After what we went through on November 13 we're a family now, not only with each other – but with the fans, too.”
“The love and support has been overwhelming and we are forever grateful. Naturally, the band has bonded, but it goes beyond that. We’ve had the great honour of meeting and spending time with the fans that survived with us. Their strength is like nothing we’ve ever seen. The fourth wall has fallen and that bond inspires us daily.”
I first met singer Jesse Hughes in 2011, when he visited the radio station I was working at for an interview. Since then, I’ve interviewed him over a dozen times for radio, print and TV, and we’ve hung out several times over the years, both in the UK and the US. I’ve known guitarist David Catching for a couple of years too, and visited him at his home studio the Rancho de la Luna in the Mojave Desert. Most recently, I befriended Julian Dorio at an EODM show in my hometown of Birmingham, just one week prior to the siege at Le Bataclan.
I’ve maintained intermittent email contact with the group since the attacks, to offer any kind of support that I could. But a member of the media offering support is a double-edged sword. In the weeks that followed the attack at Le Bataclan, survivors and relatives faced another assault as the media descended and bombarded them with persistent enquiries for interviews. It was just as intense for the band.
“Reporters were camped illegally outside my home/studio for 2 weeks,” says David Catching. “I didn’t go home. Instead, I went and stayed with my girlfriend and surrounded myself with close friends, and talked through the horrible events and tried to put my life back together the best I could.”
I arrived in Paris the day before the band’s scheduled concert at the Olympia. The band arrived a day early, too. I emailed Catching to see if he was free that night to meet up, but the band had pressing matters to attend to, namely a gathering of EODM fans and Bataclan survivors arranged by two of Jesse Hughes’ French friends.
“We were invited to a party for fellow Bataclan survivors,” Catching explained. “It was a beautiful home and everyone there was incredible: really sweet people who lived through the horrific events. They started a support group for themselves and communicate frequently to relieve the pain involved in remembrance. It was good for all of us. It certainly helped me to see everyone who had shown us such love and promise.”
“When the band arrived there were tears,” says Jesse's friend Michelle Sadova Harris, who works for Dissention Records and was present at the party. “It was an opportunity for recovery and therapy in a private setting. There was such an amount of love and gratitude for them being there…”
That unwavering sense of unity was on full display outside the Olympia Theatre the day of the gig. I arrived a few hours before doors opened - to soak up the atmosphere in the lead up to the event - just as Jesse, Dave and Josh Homme came out to greet the fans. Homme wasn’t present at Le Bataclan the night of the attacks, but he’s played a significant role in helping the band, and Jesse in particular, come to terms with the atrocities they witnessed. There were smiles and hugs from everyone gathered, and the bond between the survivors was indisputable – they were connected in a way that goes way beyond just music.
There was no sign of Dorio and bassist Matt McJunkins outside the venue – they were inside waiting to greet the fans as they came in.
“Matt and I stood front row in the Olympia as the doors opened,” says the drummer. “The hall was empty and we wanted our new family to feel safe when they entered the venue, which for many of them was their first concert since the attacks. As the doors opened and they came sprinting towards us, we embraced. When in history has such a tragedy had a reunion three months later? Playing Paris again was our chance to finish what we started and begin the next chapter of our lives.”
In that sense, the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris on February 16 was much more than just a show. It was a therapeutic gathering, and a chance for the survivors to come together, try and overcome their grief, and move forward.
“No one came into this thinking it was another show,” says Michelle Sadova Harris. “It was a duty of honour for the band to say, ‘We’re here for you, and we’re not going to be terrorised.’ What’s most important is their love for their fans - nothing will come between that.”
If the congregation at the survivor’s house the night before the concert was a private event, then tonight was a decidedly public affair. The whole area surrounding the venue was an all-out media circus: television, radio and print reporters all shamelessly clamoured for attention. It was absolute pandemonium.
The Olympia Theatre was literally on lockdown. There were dozens of armed guards patrolling the perimeter of the venue – and marksmen on the roof, too – all carrying seriously heavy-duty weapons. If it was like a military operation that’s because it was.
“Security for the whole trip has been watertight,” says Dissention Records’ Matthew Harris. “It goes far beyond what we really know: it involves governments, military, and the highest levels of security you can imagine.”
After 20 minutes of scouting the perimeter I finally found the alternative entrance for artists and media, where I picked up my accreditation. I was then ordered back around to the front of the venue to join the guest or 'invitee' queue, where the pat-downs were no less thorough than those being carried out at the main entrance. The dictaphone I'd brought with me to record interviews inside was confiscated, and I was told that it would not be given back until I left the venue. I was also informed if I was spotted taking any pictures of the crowd then I'd be ejected immediately. It's safe to say security was as scrupulous as any airport that I've been through.
Inside the Olympia, though, the first thing that struck me was the festival-like atmosphere. Everyone seemed incredibly happy and relaxed, and it was obvious from the word go that nothing was going to prevent these people from having a good time.
One girl rolled past me in a wheelchair with her leg still in plaster from a gunshot wound, a glass of wine in her hand and a smile on her face. Elsewhere, people were puffing away on cigarettes. I asked one of the girls if smoking was still allowed in French venues.
“Not usually,” she said, “but tonight is special.”
Amen. I lit one myself and went for a mosey around the theatre.
Trauma therapists in high-visibility jackets were on hand to speak to anyone experiencing stress or trauma from being in a concert environment again, but everyone seemed too busy enjoying themselves to notice their presence. The queue at the bar was five bodies deep, as people waited patiently to order drinks, whilst those who already had drinks toasted and cheered with their friends. More than anything, the crowd just seemed pumped for the gig. They were here to finish what they started last November, and that sense of defiance is a true testament to the power of rock ‘n’ roll.
Before the siege at Le Bataclan, the Eagles Of Death Metal might have been viewed merely as a party band, famed for their songs about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Now they mean something else entirely. When they walked out onto the stage to face that crowd in Paris it was nothing short of a religious experience. Jesse Hughes prowled the stage, possessed by euphoria, blowing kisses out to the audience and telling everyone that he loved them.
“You motherfuckers have no idea how much I need you tonight,” he said, and you could see in his eyes that he fucking meant it. The rest of the band just stood in awe of their reception – the applause and cheers so loud the walls and floor were shaking.
The quartet – Hughes, Catching, McJunkins and Homme – opened up with their signature song I Only Want You, and the sound was both crisp and deafening. 89 seconds of silence then followed for those who lost their lives at Le Bataclan, a gesture that felt just as loud.
Then the show truly began. The crowd was treated to spirited versions of old favourites like Don’t Speak, So Easy and Whorehoppin’, and Complexity off the latest album Zipper Down, at which point Jesse's girlfriend Tuesday Cross joined the band on stage to play keyboards, whilst their guitar tech Eden Galindo assumed guitar duties, allowing Jesse to roam the stage and whip up the masses into even more of a frenzy.
Julian Dorio received a hero’s welcome as he sat behind the second drum kit for Oh Girl and I Love You All The Time, and for the remainder of the set, the two percussionists shared drum duties. Not only did that give the sound an added layer of depth and power, it also reinforced the unified front within the band.
“Having Josh and over 1000 survivors there really completed the circle,” Julian emailed later. “It was the first time Josh and I doubled up on drums, and I believe it added some power and layering to the show. Some songs we played in unison. Some he took, some I took, but most importantly, we just had fun with it. The night was inevitably heavy, but we made a choice to steer it towards positivity and celebration.”
After a show-stopping rendition of I Wanna Be In LA (renamed for tonight as 'I Wanna Be In Paris’), the band left Jesse alone to serenade the crowds with an unashamedly ramshackle version of Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones. For the epic finale, the band reappeared in matching cowboy shirts – a gift from Texas Joe, London’s premier beef jerky guy, no less – and charged with a gallantry befitting of the old West through a three-song encore of Save A Prayer, I Want You So Hard (The Boys Bad News) and Speaking In Tongues, during which Jesse disappears into the crowd, only to resurface soloing from the top of the balcony like a rock ‘n’ roll messiah, before rejoining his band mates for their final bow.
When the gig was over, there were smiles on the faces of everyone leaving the building, the kind of smiles you could see had been waiting a long time to break out. Outside the venue, I met someone called Francois, who was a survivor of the siege at Le Bataclan. I asked him what he thought.
"I've read a lot of terrifying testimonies from traumatised survivors on Facebook the last three months,” he said, “so I thought that the crowd was going to be quiet – but it was the opposite. I ended up in the mosh pit during almost all the gig. A lot of us just wanted to dance and have fun during that show. That was the best thing to me."