PARIS– Rock star Sting on Saturday reopened the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall where jihadists massacred 90 people, with a hugely symbolic and emotional show to mark the first anniversary of France’s bloodiest terror attack.
But in a sensational turn of events, the concert hall’s co-director said he had prevented two members of the US group Eagles of Death Metal, who were on stage when the bloodshed started on November 13, 2015, from entering.
“They came, I threw them out — there are things you can’t forgive,” Bataclan co-director Jules Frutos told AFP, furious at Eagles frontman Jesse Hughes for his claims that some of the venue’s Muslim security men were complicit in the attack.
“He makes these incredibly false declarations every two months. It is madness, accusing our security of being complicit with the terrorists… Enough. Zero. This has to stop,” Frutos added.
Hughes, a rare right-wing rocker and supporter of US president-elect Donald Trump, has also said without evidence that Muslims were celebrating outside during the venue during the siege.
However the band’s manager Marc Pollack denied members of the group had tried to enter the Bataclan, telling Billboard magazine: “Jesse did not even try to enter the room for the concert of Sting.”
In a brief email Pollack told AFP that the information was “false”, “no comment”.
Sting began what had been billed as “the toughest gig in rock” with a minute’s silence for the 130 people who lost their lives in a night of Islamic State gun and bomb attacks across the French capital.
The British singer — who spoke French throughout the gig — told the crowd that “We will not forget them” before launching into a set that walked a perfect line between celebration and reflection.
“Tonight we have two tasks to achieve,” he said. “First to remember those who lost their lives in the attack, and then to celebrate life and music in this historic place.”
Many in the crowd wept during the first song, “Fragile” as Sting sang “Nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could”, but the singer then got the place on its feet clapping and stamping with “Message In a Bottle”.
“I’ll send an SOS to the world,” he sang. “Only hope can keep us alive.”
‘Taking my life back’
Scores of survivors of the Bataclan assault attended the packed concert, the dominant event in a weekend of otherwise low-key commemorations.
Among them was Aurelien, in his thirties, determined to have a good night despite the pain of returning to the scene of so much horror.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in a public space for a year. I haven’t been to the cinema, to a concert. I get my shopping delivered,” he said.
“Tonight I’m taking my life back like it was before. It’s a duty, there’s an obligation to be here — because there are 90 people who can’t come anymore,” he added, visibly moved, his hands trembling.
“It was very hard to be here at first, but now it’s going a bit better — I’m drinking my beer and I’m hoping to have a good time.”
Having paid tribute to the late singers David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, Sting introduced a new song “Inshallah” (“God willing” in Arabic) about the migrant crisis, to whoops from the crowd.
“This song is about a family on a boat” trying to get to Eurºpe, Sting said.
“I don’t have a solution for the migrant crisis but I think we can find one through empathy.”
Return of music and fun
The biggest applause of the night, however, was for “Desert Rose”, a song Sting originally recorded with the Algerian singer Cheb Mami. Performed with the Lebanese trumpet star Ibrahim Maalouf, its driving arabesque beat felt like a defiant retort to puritanical Islamist dogma from which the gunmen sprang.
As he left the stage, the star said, “Vive le Bataclan” (Long live the Bataclan), before returning to perform alone the “Empty Chair”, a song he wrote in tribute to US journalist James Foley, who worked for AFP, who was beheaded by IS in Syria in 2014.
“I dedicate this to all the families here tonight who have lost someone,” Sting said.
Georges Salines, who lost his 28-year-old daughter Lola at the Bataclan, said the concert was “almost a taking back of the space for music and fun from the forces of death”.
More than 250 survivors and victims’ families attended the concert.
On Sunday, the actual anniversary of the attacks, President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will unveil plaques outside the Bataclan as well as the other locations that were targeted — the national stadium, restaurants and bars.
Jesse Hughes is expected at the Bataclan ceremony.
One year on, nine people out of the around 400 injured in the rampage are still in hospital.