The rock and roll band Eagles of Death Metal (EODM) performs in concert like every rock band does – piercingly loud. So on the night of November 13, about an hour into their set at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, it took a few seconds for the band members to realize that the horrific staccato noises they were hearing came from a relentless hail of bullets. A blast of gunpowder hit drummer Julian Dorio’s nose as the reality of what was happening dawned.
November 13, 2015 became another infamous date of terror when Jihadist terrorists struck Paris again, carrying out simultaneous assaults in multiple locations, killing 140 altogether. The greatest carnage was at the 1,500-seat Bataclan, where 90 mostly young concertgoers were killed and hundreds more wounded. Though the terrorists aimed directly at the band members, none were injured physically, though 36-year-old Nick Alexander, EODM’s merchandising manager, was killed, along with three employees from their record label.
Until September 2015, the Bataclan was owned by a French Jew, Joel Laloux. For many years the venue hosted Jewish events, including annual fundraisers for Migdal, the French Jewish nonprofit group that supports the Israeli Border Police, as well as Israeli performing arts groups. The theater had received many threats over the years, including once in 2008 when 10 men wearing Arab kaffiyehs over their faces showed up at the theater demanding to speak to management. Additionally, the French magazine Le Point reported on that in 2011 a member of the group Army of Islam told French security services that "we had planned an attack against the Bataclan because its owners are Jewish."
“I’ve never felt more at home in my life.”
Demonstrating its courage and commitment to freedom, the band members of Eagles of Death Metal are determined to play again in Paris, now an ongoing target of Islamic terrorism. This same courage was also underscored when they went to play in Israel for the first time last July at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. Onstage, Jesse Hughes, EODM’s frontman, told the crowd exactly what he thought of the letter he had received from Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd and an outspoken supporter of the BDS movement. In the letter, Waters urged Hughes not to perform in Israel.
“You know what I wrote back? Two words!” Hughes shouted, then shouted the expletives to the enthusiastic crowd. “I’ve never felt more at home in my life,” he told the crowd.
Despite its name, EODM is an alternative rock band, not a “death metal” band. They were launched in 1998 by Hughes and Josh Homme, both from Palm Desert, California. In an emotionally riveting video interview posted online on Vice, band members recalled the shock and terror of November 13. They mourned the deaths and injuries of their fans and lauded the bravery they witnessed as concertgoers used themselves as human shields to protect their friends, and performed other heroic acts.
Bass player Matt McJunkins said, “We hid behind the curtain, and people started pouring up to the stage. People were trying to help each other. One woman held a bottle of champagne as a weapon. I saw one man keeping pressure on a woman’s bullet wound on her leg. An explosion shook the whole building. We didn't know what that was, but later found out it was a suicide vest.”
Drummer Julian Dorio crawled for cover to the right side of the stage behind the drum riser. The gunmen shot at Dorio onstage but hit a console instead. He remained huddled behind the equipment as he heard shouts of “Alahu Akbhar!” during the interim after the gunman’s clips ran out and before he reloaded and began shooting again.
Jesse Hughes was very emotional as he recalled the mass confusion. “The hallways were a labyrinth. (Fans) got into our dressing room and played dead. So many people wouldn't leave their friends, so many people put themselves in front of friends to shield them.” Hughes broke down in tears several times during the interview, sometimes clutching at McJunkins’ arm. “I felt so guilty leaving Matt on the stage,” he said at one point.
Still clearly stricken by the event, the band plans to finish the tour. Homme said this decision was “not only because of Nick Alexander, but it’s our way of life, and it's the human condition (to move on). It’s still so hard to believe. I wish I could talk to the (fans’) parents. I sort of want to get down on my knees but words fail to grasp the thing.”
In Paris, Hughes laid a single rose at the Bataclan and silently wept.
Hughes added he refused to let the aftermath of the terrorist attack overwhelm him. “I'm breathing and I have a son and a house and feel I have a life of blessings. I'm not going to walk around saying life sucks. I want to spend my life smiling and playing for my friends. I want to be the first band to play in the Bataclan. My friends went there and died I want to go back there and live.”
On December 8, the band made a tearful return to the Bataclan, reading cards left outside the theater, amid a sea of floral tributes. Hughes laid a single rose at the site and silently wept. While the band cancelled the rest of their European tour after the attacks, in Paris they joined the Irish rock group U2 on stage at the end of U2’s concert in the AccorHotels Arena, singing together Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”
EODM is not waiting for the Bataclan to reopen at the end of 2016 to play in Paris again; they’ll be back in February, performing the music they and their fans find so life-affirming.