PARIS, France (AFP) — In a concert that may well be enshrined in rock history, the US band Eagles of Death Metal appeared on stage in Paris Tuesday in front of the survivors of the Bataclan massacre in which 90 of their fans died.
The group played to a crowd whipped to a frenzy by the joy of reunion and relief at survival, the counterpoint to memories of a night of slaughter.
Deafening cheers and applause rang out as the group began their set, viewed as a key moment in reviving morale in Paris after the November 13 terror attacks and helping survivors to turn the page on their ordeal.
Rich in symbolism, the Eagles appeared to the playback of an old song by French singer Jacques Dutronc called “Paris s’eveille” — “Paris Wakes Up,” a portrait of a city about to begin the new day.
The band tore into a favourite song, “I Only Want You,” but stopped halfway into the song.
“Let’s take a moment to remember, then we will get back to the fun,” said drummer Josh Homme.
The Eagles of Death Metal had been playing at the Bataclan concert hall when jihadists with guns and explosives opened fire on defenceless fans before police stormed the venue.
The assault was the bloodiest in a string of attacks in central Paris and at the national stadium that night which left 130 dead and 350 injured, many of them grievously.
The assaults left deep and painful scars on a city famed for its easygoing nightlife, and many Parisians were prompted to curtail their evenings out.
The band members met around 60 survivors on Monday and the group that represents some 500 of them, Life for Paris, said many would only decide whether to go or not at the very last minute.
Some had looked to the return of the band as a moment of catharsis after months of trauma and sometimes critical injuries, although some psychologists feared it could be too soon.
One 26-year-old who survived the carnage at the Bataclan by playing dead, said seeing his musical heroes was about confronting the fears and anxieties that now dog his life.
“Today I have been tormenting myself for hours about whether I will go to the concert,” the Internet moderator called Alexis said.
The rescheduled concert, taking place at the legendary venue l’Olympia, saw scenes of delirium as joyous fans crowd-surfed in the “moshpit” in front of the stage.
“We are having a good time tonight — amen!” said the band’s flamboyant frontman, Jesse Hughes, who is also a preacher.
“Ain’t nobody going to stop us.”
A fan gave him a homemade scarf of the tricolor, France’s national flag, which Hughes proceeded to drape over the drumkit.
Hughes, wearing a black “Mon Amis” (“My Friends”) tour T-shirt and trademark red braces, pointed to Homme, saying, “that’s my best friend in front of me.”
“But I have got a whole shitload of best friends here, too,” he said, pointing at the audience.
He dedicated a song, “Secret Plans,” to Nick Alexander, the band’s merchandiser, who was among those killed at the Bataclan.
He smashed his guitar and threw it into the audience — the instrument was then replaced with a tricolor version.
“You are stuck with me now! I’m Parisian now! I needed you so much and you did not let me down,” shouted Hughes.
“I am so drunk with this (moment) I cannot walk off this stage. Can you not see that?”
In the runup to the show, Hughes, a vocal opponent of gun control, caused controversy by claiming that if everyone had guns the massacre may not have happened.
The American singer said France’s strict gun control laws “had nothing to do with” the attack. But he questioned whether gun control had saved any lives at the Bataclan.
“I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head first into the face of death with their firearms.
“That night guns made them equal,” the 43-year-old told French TV station iTele. “Until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.”