The world is reeling in the wake of a series of brutal terrorist attacks in Paris. Friday’s coordinated assaults by the extremist group known as ISIS took 132 lives and wounded hundreds more. Adding poignance to this tragedy, for music fans, is the fact that the most deadly of the assaults took place at a rock concert: a sold-out show by the band Eagles of Death Metal.
Gunmen stormed the Bataclan concert hall just as the band were launching into their song “Kiss the Devil,” firing assault weapons and taking scores of lives. The assailants turned the venue into a holding area for hostages; French authorities laid siege for hours before they were able to regain control of the situation and end the killing.
As people around the world condemn the violence and consider what steps might be taken to fight the growing menace of ISIS, music artists and fans are expressing sympathy and adjusting everything from tour dates to set lists to reflect the somber new reality. While there have been accidents and assaults at rock shows before, the Paris concert attack is unprecedented in the scope of its deliberate lethality.
All members of Eagles of Death Metal were able to safely escape the attack, but their crew member Nick Alexander — a 36-year-old Londoner who was selling merchandise at the band’s table when the terrorists arrived — was killed. Music critic Guillaume B. Decherf also died, as did three employees of Universal Music France.
“The tears have been rolling all night,” Minneapolis-based tour manager Jim Runge, who worked with Alexander on tour with the Black Keys, wrote on Facebook. “I haven’t slept. That smile is burned into my memory.”
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who was in Paris playing a Friday night show with his band the Arcs, said he was devastated. “Nick was just a really nice guy,” Auerbach wrote in Rolling Stone. “He was just an absolute rock & roll guy. He lived for it.”
Auerbach describes a chaotic scene in Paris, with the Arcs’ venue Le Trianon being locked down just after the band’s show ended, when news of the attacks started to break. “We were hunkered down listening for gunshots. We had people guarding all the doors, which were all locked up. We saw the helicopters flying above us; police cars just screaming by.”
Le Bataclan is a legendary concert venue that’s comparable to Minneapolis’s First Avenue in size and cross-genre appeal — and, like First Ave, started booking rock shows in the early 1970s. Among the venue’s most memorable shows have been a spontaneous Velvet Underground reunion in 1972, a 1995 Jeff Buckley show that was later released as a live EP, and an epic 2002 Prince show that culminated in a 150-minute encore and is prized by bootleggers.
On Monday, Le Bataclan made its first statement since the attacks. “[There are] no words sufficient to express the magnitude of our grief,” wrote the venue (translation by NME), explaining that the investigation was ongoing and that personal possessions left at the venue could not yet be retrieved.
Chers amis … pic.twitter.com/tnGDFUZZin
— Le Bataclan (@le_bataclan) November 16, 2015
Eagles of Death Metal, who had an additional 21 European concerts booked on this tour, have canceled the remainder of their tour and will likely return to the U.S. on Monday. Deftones were scheduled to play at Le Bataclan this weekend, and were in the audience for the Eagles of Death Metal show; the band reports their members and crew are all safe, and they are also immediately returning home to their native California.
As news of the attacks spread, mainstream media found themselves trying to explain Eagles of Death Metal’s tongue-in-cheek name and fun-first philosophy to those who had never heard of the band. “The group, from Palm Desert, Calif., mixes driving blues-rock of 1970s vintage with a heavy dose of humor,” explained the New York Times. “For fans of Eagles of Death Metal, the band’s name is part of its irreverent charm.”
Foo Fighters had four remaining shows scheduled in their European tour, including a Monday show in Paris, and they have canceled their remaining performances. “In light of this senseless violence, the closing of borders, and international mourning, we can’t continue right now,” wrote the band on Facebook.
U2, who were scheduled to perform a Paris show on Saturday night, to be filmed for an upcoming HBO special, postponed that performance. “Our first thoughts at this point are with the Eagles of Death Metal fans,” said Bono, calling the attack “the first direct hit on music” in the 21st century’s ongoing struggle with extremist terrorism.
“These are our people,” Bono told Rolling Stone. “This could be me at a show, you at a show, in that venue. It’s a very recognizable situation for you and for me and the cold-blooded aspect of this slaughter is deeply disturbing.”
Motörhead, who were scheduled to play in Paris on Sunday — and who are also mourning their longtime drummer Phil Taylor, who died last week of an unspecified illness at the age of 61 — postponed their Paris show, expecting to reschedule sometime in January.
As other shows proceeded amid heightened security around the world, musicians struggled to find the right words — and songs — in the wake of the horrific attack that hit so close to home.
Coldplay played a Friday night show in Los Angeles that was originally intended to be a live-streamed preview of material from their new album; the live-stream and music premieres were canceled, but the band still played a show for the fans who had traveled to see them. “We send our love and prayers to the people of Paris,” said the band in a statement.
At a Stockholm concert on Saturday night, Madonna acknowledged the tragedy with an emotional speech. “In many ways, I feel torn,” she admitted. “Why am I up here dancing and having fun when people are crying over the loss of their loved ones?”
On Friday night in Minneapolis, Pokey LaFarge played a show that celebrated the sixth anniversary of The Current’s United States of Americana, with openers Margo Price and Spider John Koerner. On stage at the Fine Line Music Café, host Bill DeVille — who interviewed Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes on The Current just two months ago — acknowledged that the evening had taken on a newly somber tone.
“Our thoughts are with Paris,” said Bill — adding that in the wake of the tragic violence that was on everybody’s minds, “it’s good to be among friends.”