Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal
Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal © Ross Gilmore/Redferns

“We prefer to keep things simple and not deal with the complexities of life,” declared Jesse Hughes, lead singer of the Eagles of Death Metal, introducing the American band’s first London gig in a year. It was a rare moment of understatement from a flamboyant rock act who were plunged into tragedy last November when their Paris show at the Bataclan theatre became the shocking scene of a terrorist massacre that left 90 dead, including their British merchandise manager, Nick Alexander.

The band defiantly resumed touring in the city only three months later but theories proposed by the pro-gun, evangelical Christian frontman about the complicity of security guards in the attack turned Hughes from hero to villain, with two French festivals dropping the group from their line-ups.

It is perhaps easier for the British to turn a blind eye to the wayward opinions of a traumatised rock star, and devoted fans, despite the extra security, were determined to wrap this avowedly old-fashioned, good-time band in a beer-soaked bear hug. One man threw a tricolour flag overlaid with the word “LOVE” on to the stage. Later, a woman’s bra and knickers were added to the gifts.

The band responded with a roaring two-hour set of their full-throttle Southern boogie rock, salty with tongue-in-cheek lyrical clichés. Hughes and childhood friend, Josh Homme, formed the band in 1998 as an homage to the beloved ’70s AOR and 80s heavy metal of their youth, but they manage to transcend comic pastiche through the serious heft of their muscular, martial rhythms and lean, searing guitar licks, pushed to the fore on their most recent album, Zipper Down. Without Homme on tour, the extravagantly moustachioed Hughes happily hogs the spotlight, abandoning guitar for most of the time so he can gurn and duck-walk across the stage like a cross between Mick Jagger and Begbie from Trainspotting.

There was barely a glimmer of fragility or trauma in the delivery — even a cover of Duran Duran’s 1982 hit “Save a Prayer” was swaggering rather than mawkish. It was at times more pantomime then performance, yet nonetheless an impressive, moving display of fearless bonhomie and communal celebration in the aftermath of horror.

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