At the end of their first song they performed on Monday, at Tel Aviv's Barby club, Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes did something unexpected: He raised his white guitar horizontally, pressed it to his chest, aimed the neck at the audience and mimed shooting. At any other show, such a gesture would have gone practically unnoticed, but at an appearance by Eagles of Death Metal – whose November 2015 show at Paris’ Bataclan Theater was the target of one of the deadliest terror attacks in recent years – it had much more meaning.
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Perhaps Hughes was using this choreographic move at the Barby to say something like, “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, the only thing doing any shooting will be the guitars.” Maybe there wasn’t any reason for what he did. Eagles of Death Metal aren’t exactly known for quiet contemplation, not to mention that, to judge by how much Hughes kept praising the local arak, he may not have been all that sober.
In any event, he never made any explicit reference to the massacre in Paris. The only time he came close was when he told the audience: “You have no idea how happy we are to be here. You have no idea how protected we feel here. It’s been a weird fucking year.”
Eagles of Death Metal last played the Barby in July 2015, four months before the terror attack in the French capital. The current show, perhaps because of the group’s high profile after that tragedy, was originally slated for Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv, but was eventually shifted to the club, which was a good thing. It is a natural venue for this kind of band, which doesn’t have any pretensions of presenting something deep or important or original, but is mainly out to provide a good time, rock 'n roll-style.
As it turned out, though, in the 45 minutes from the start of the show until the band took a brief break, even that good-time goal was barely met. They played reasonably well, the energy was high but not crazy, and Hughes stood out more during the bantering between songs than while he was playing. I wasn’t bored like the group's security guard seemed to be (was he really wearing a T-shirt that said “Yogurt” under his open khaki shirt?), but pretty close. Still, most of the audience looked quite happy.
All kinds of thoughts started swirling in my head: How could I write a negative review of this event when not so long ago, at a show very much like this one, 89 music lovers just out enjoying themselves were brutally killed?
Happily, such musings evaporated once Eagles of Death Metal returned to the stage after their five-minute break. “Now we’re going to play Roni’s favorite song" (Roni apparently being one of the local production people), announced Hughes, now wearing an orange jacket emblazoned with the name “Bowie.” Then the guitars broke into the powerful first chords of the late great singer's “Moonage Daydream,” and then the opening roar: “I’m an alligator.”
This song was so made for Eagles of Death Metal, and while up to this point the group seemed to be trying to connect with some amorphous entity – like the spirit of rock 'n roll or some such – suddenly the performance had connected to something specific and deeply beloved.
The David Bowie cover really opened up the whole show, and the level of sound; it seemed like the volume was raised a couple of notches. The next songs, although again from the band’s own repertoire, kept the focus going and showed off the virtues of extra-high volume and sloppy guitars. One sign of the improved atmosphere was when an audience member leapt onto the arms of the people nearby, who carried him toward the stage – although the move was aggressively halted by the Yogurt security guy. Other folks had tried the same thing earlier, but this time it was Aviran Haviv of the Great Machine, one of the best rock n' roll bands in Israel.
Ten minutes later Hughes fired up his guitar again and wrapped things up.