A couple of years ago I attended a unique screening of Bjorn Tagemose’s Gutterdammerung at the Palladium which included, among the plethora of rock star cameos, an excellent sequence featuring Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal (EODM). He looked familiar to me, and while I’d heard of the band, I wasn’t too familiar with their music.
Fast forward a year, I stumbled across Colin Hanks’s sensitively crafted documentary Nos Amis, telling the story of the November 2015 terrorist massacre at the Bataclan in Paris. EODM were on stage when gunmen started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd with automatic weapons, while other sites in the city were simultaneously attacked. Almost 100 people lost their lives in the venue that night and the band themselves were lucky to escape.
I have watched the film a few times and it never fails to reduce me to tears. Witnessing the band members recount their horrifying experience and speak honestly about dealing with the aftermath remains extremely moving. A happy consequence of the film, as I watched and listened to their music, I realised how much I was enjoying their Rolling Stone-esque sound. An online alert at the beginning of this year informing me the band would be in London this summer meant I could grab my chance.
Arriving at the Electric Ballroom this week it certainly did not feel like summer; having had the day off I arrived after the doors opened to find there was still a significant queue down the street in the torrential rain. Entry was being staggered since thorough searches were conducted of all attending, which made perfect sense considering the bands’ previous experience.
Once out of the pouring rain I naturally made my way straight to the merchandise stand. Brand new shirt tied around a bag strap, I moved into the crowd to listen to the support act already playing: The Beaches. Hailing from Toronto, this all girl four-piece can really rock. Support acts aren’t guaranteed the full attention of an audience; this band definitely had the focus of the growing crowd. Reminding me of Deap Valley, I do recommend giving them a listen not because we don’t see enough female rock bands, but because they are really good.
Leaving the crowd warmed up we all motioned a little bit forward toward the stage as we watched the set up. The reveal of the ‘EODM’ logo backdrop heightened the excitement among the congesting sold out floor. I did have to chuckle upon seeing some props arrive on stage, including a Roman Centurion helmet placed next to a human sized cardboard cut-out of one of the flying monkeys from the 1939 Wizard of Oz film. I then noticed another cut-out of the Wicked Witch of the West herself peeking out from the opposite side of the stage. The reference was oddly timed since my niece currently loves the story of Dorothy’s adventure and I have just recently listened to L. Frank Baum’s novel as an audiobook. I quickly messaged my sister saying I’d have to fill my niece in.
The 1500 capacity roared when the lights dimmed and Jesse Hughes took to the stage in his signature red cape to the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou”. It was as if he wanted to come out and greet everyone before starting to play, and the appreciation on his face was clear. Starting off strong they smashed into the set with the energetic “I Only Want You”, the song that really got me into them, and then thundering into the catchy “Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!), whipping us all into a dancing frenzy.
Hughes at this point gazed over the heaving mass of fans with what appeared to be genuine wonder on his face. A chant of “Jesse” swelled which seemed to surprise him. Commenting that he had thought the night was going to be good, he did not expect “the ferocity”, the crowd returned his banter with enthusiastic cheers.
Recognising friends in the audience from all over the world, as well as mentioning The Beaches great set, he said the night was indeed a truly special occasion and feeling the pressure he: “Definitely can’t suck tonight”. The rock ’n roll came thick and fast, I think just about everyone would have heard a song they were hoping to. They even included a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”, which turns out to be one of my sister’s favourite tracks, and she had replied to one of my earlier messages while they were playing it too. (More spooky timing)
The atmosphere in the venue was simply perfect. There was no emotional overwhelm, just a room full of people having the best time, dancing and singing along to some fun, bluesy, rockabilly tracks. The security was the most visible I’d seen with personnel in elevated positions keeping a constant eye on the crowd, but this didn’t detract from the atmosphere at all. We were all there for the fun of it, and the joy was infectious and worn on everyone’s sweaty faces.
Crowd surfs, sing alongs and many declarations of love from the stage made this such a special event. Hughes dedicated the set to his friend Nick Alexander, who was killed in the Paris attack, which elicited a warm cheer from us all. Finishing their encore with “Speaking in Tongues”, Hughes disappeared off the stage only to appear on an upper level among fans playing epic solos. As he made his way back down bassist Jennie Vee played an epic solo of Motorhead’s: “Ace of Spades”. It was a full circle moment for me, thinking back to my first sight of Hughes on screen in the Palladium, and that live band’s raucous tribute to Lemmy at the end of the screening by playing the same track and a packed theatre responding energetically in turn.
I made my way home with a wide grin on my face that I could feel in my heart (despite no explanation for the aforementioned helmet or Wizard of Oz props). It was a unique sense of euphoria. Singing along to a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” at one point was epically cheesy, but we all embraced it. The words however felt like a declaration, a message of hope and persistence in the face of violence. That sense of triumph lingers still and I recommend to anyone who can get a ticket to EODM does so. They show up for a good time, and that’s exactly what you’ll have.