Attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris: Looking Back
For almost a year, the Bataclan theater stood silent. There were no concerts hosted by the Parisian music venue, which had become famous for big shows by legendary artists like Metallica, the Police, Jeff Buckley and members of the Velvet Underground, among so many others. In 2015, however, the Bataclan suddenly became better known for tragedy, as a site of one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in history.
Extremists affiliated with the Islamic State perpetuated a coordinated assault in multiple locations across Paris on Nov. 13 – including the Bataclan, where a trio of gunmen stormed a concert being performed by the Eagles of Death Metal. Wearing dark clothing and suicide vests while toting automatic weapons, the three terrorists arrived at the venue midway through Eagles of Death Metal’s set, opening fire from the mezzanine on the crowd of approximately 1,500.
Chaos ensued, as fans rushed out through emergency exits, ran to the building’s roof or tried to hide in dressing areas and restrooms. The attackers stalked victims inside the Bataclan and took hostages. When French police got word that the terrorists had started killing hostages, they infiltrated the venue. Two of the extremists triggered their suicide vests, while another was shot by authorities, prompting his vest to ignite.
It soon became clear that the entire building was awash in carnage. France, the world and the music community were in shock. Of the 130 people who died at the hands of suicide bombers and machine-gun wielding assailants, 89 perished in the attack on the Bataclan. Those who were injured numbered in the hundreds. It was the deadliest attack in the European country since World War II.
All performing members of Eagles of Death Metal somehow made it safely out of the Bataclan. But some associates of the band weren’t as lucky. Nick Alexander, a veteran of the touring industry, was working the merchandise table when he was killed. Record company employees Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser and Manu Perez were also among the victims. Eagles of Death Metal paid special tribute to those four people in a statement issued five days after the attacks.
“Although bonded in grief with the victims, the fans, the families, the citizens of Paris, and all those affected by terrorism, we are proud to stand together, with our new family, now united by a common goal of love and compassion,” the band wrote.
Dan Auerbach also shared his sadness for “merch guy” Alexander, who had worked the Black Keys’ European tours for the past decade. Auerbach was actually in Paris on that dreadful night, playing with his other band the Arcs at a venue only a few miles from the Bataclan.
He expressed survivor’s guilt: “The Black Keys played the Bataclan almost five years ago to the day. ... It’s a place I've been to a lot,” Auerbach said. “It just really hit home. I know people that were there last night. … Why the hell did it happen there and not where we were playing? I’m just so brokenhearted about all those people.”
There was an outpouring of support from around the world, especially among the musicians who had performed at the Bataclan since the early ’70s, when it began to host rock shows. Meanwhile, bands cancelled concerts scheduled in Paris in the days after the attacks, out of respect for the lives lost.
The Foo Fighters called off the last four days of their European tour. The Deftones, who had been scheduled to play at the Bataclan the night after Eagles of Death Metal, also cancelled their shows, while revealing that some band members had left the venue shortly before the terrorists stormed in.
Motörhead postponed an upcoming Paris show, and it ultimately was never rescheduled when frontman Lemmy Kilmister died the following December. U2 had been set to play a pair of big concerts in Paris, including one show that was to be telecast on HBO. They promptly postponed the gigs, and instead appeared outside the Bataclan to pay respects to the victims.
“It’s very upsetting. These are our people,” U2’s Bono said. “This is the first direct hit on music that we’ve had in this so-called war on terror, or whatever it’s called.”
Watch the Eagles of Death Metal and U2 Sing "People Have the Power"
Bono and U2 also spoke out when they performed the rescheduled Paris concerts in December, bringing out the Eagles of Death Metal at the second of two shows at the Accorhotels Arena. “They were robbed of their stage three weeks ago; we’d like to offer them ours tonight,” Bono, before the two bands teamed up for a cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” U2’s special guests then closed the show with their own “I Love You All the Time.”
Eagles of Death Metal halted their tour as well, but singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes became a media fixture after the Paris attacks, initially as a witness to the violence and then as a spokesman for the power of music over terror. As the months progressed, however, Hughes’ comments took an angrier turn. When his band returned to Paris for a February concert specifically for the survivors of the Bataclan attacks, Hughes went on French TV and declared his support for more guns on the street.
“Did your French gun control stop a single f---ing person from dying at the Bataclan?” he asked rhetorically on iTele. “I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.”
Hughes began delving into conspiracy theories, suggesting in another interview that a lack of security guards not only was to blame for the attack, but that he suspected that those guards were in league with the attackers. After the Bataclan owners called Hughes’ comments “grave and defamatory,” the singer offered an apology.
“My suggestions that anyone affiliated with the Bataclan played a role in the events of 13 November are unfounded and baseless – and I take full responsibility for them,” Hughes said. “I’ve been dealing with non-stop nightmares and struggling through therapy to make sense of this tragedy and insanity. I haven’t been myself since 13 November.”
Still, controversy continued to follow Hughes. After he claimed that he saw “Muslims celebrating in the street during the attack” and that citizens knew about the terrorists’ plans, a pair of French festivals cancelled summer appearances by the Eagles of Death Metal. Director Colin Hanks was forced to deal with some of these contentious opinions in Nos Amis (Our Friends), a subsequent documentary about the band’s struggle in the aftermath.
Other musicians sought to do what they could to support France and its victims of terror. For instance, Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme – a co-founder of Eagles of Death Metal who wasn’t on tour with the band in Paris – began a charity drive for the victims. Metallica issued a 2003 concert recorded at the Bataclan for the following Record Store Day, with proceeds going to Give to France. Many other artists donated funds from concerts to charities for victims and their families.
Watch Metallica Performing in Paris in 2003
The Eagles of Death Metal continued to struggle with the horror of that evening. They eventually got back on the road, making a triumphant 2016 appearance at Paris' Olympia Theatre. A documentary focusing on that night, I Love You All the Time: Live at the Olympia in Paris, followed in August. Still, the band initially couldn't imagine returning to "Kiss the Devil," the song they were playing when the attacks began.
Meanwhile, for most of the next year, the Bataclan was covered in barricades and protective material as it underwent an enormous restoration project, funded in part by a government grant. Sting then announced that he would play the first concert at the remodeled Bataclan theater on Nov. 12, 2016, with all earnings going to a pair of victims’ charities. He had previously appeared at the venue as a member of the Police.
“In reopening the Bataclan, we have two important tasks to reconcile,” Sting said in an official statement. “First, to remember and honor those who lost their lives in the attack a year ago, and second, to celebrate the life and the music that this historic theater represents. In doing so, we hope to respect the memory as well as the life-affirming spirit of those who fell. We shall not forget them.”
In addition to the refurbishment, Bataclan security was given a boost with cameras posted inside and outside of the theater. Extra security forces were present for the venue’s reopening. In another controversial moment, members of the Eagles of Death Metal were reportedly turned away at the door, though the band's management later denied those claims.
Sting’s show, which sold out in minutes, was followed by the dedication of a memorial plaque outside the music hall, as well as concerts on subsequent days by Pete Doherty and Youssou N’Dour.
After a year of solemn quietness, the Bataclan had come alive, transforming one more into a place known for beauty and artistry and fun and joy. In refusing to go dark, the Bataclan stands defiant against those who wish to terrorize the world.
The venue posted a stirring message of resolve from writer Bertrand Dicale a year later, and then a notable excerpt from it on the two-year anniversary: "It was unconscionable that it would die," Dicale said of the Bataclan. "We could not believe that, on top of the 90 deaths of 13 November, we could add the name of a concert venue that has traversed 150 years of history. Defeat could not be added to our grief."