It’s been a long way to the top for Eagles of Death Metal but filling the Kentish Town Forum marks a new high for a band fuelled by American charm and lascivious musical pleasure.
Formed by singer-guitarist Jesse Hughes and omni-musical Queen Josh Homme, who describes the Eagles of Death Metal as “bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals”, the band has consistently teased the charts but never broken big.
But they’ve never called it quits either. Jesse Hughes has no way of stopping, he’s reached a stage where he’s internalised the rock and roll lifestyle that he just is. Like a shark, to stop would be to die. Selling out the Forum is Jesse and Co. (Josh rarely tours) eyeing the prize and biting the shit out of it.
Eagles of Death Metal play London 2015.
Watching the crowd file you notice that unlike many indie gigs this isn’t about being seen. The fans aren’t dress cool hipsters but rather stripped-back craft rock aficionados here to boogie from the time the doors open to end of the night. By the time first support act The Feverists is onstage the venue is already half full, slightly tanked and vocal.
Rather than stacking the support slots with limp bands the Eagles featured two great bands: power-indie group The Feverists and psyche-garage band White Miles. The calibre of both these bands is very high with especially little fat on Whites Miles’ ecstatic performance which lifts the crowd into a high level of excitement. It’s a tough act to follow but the audience have faith, grabbing beers and gushing at each other, they already know the Eagles will deliver.
Taking the stage to rapturous applause Boots Electric himself (Jesse Hughes) acknowledges the crowd at length. Saluting, blowing kisses, arms outstretched as if to say ‘We’re here with you and we’re going to have a great time tonight’ The Devil (another of Jesse’s noms de stage) straps on a red guitar leading the band straight into the I-VI-V boogie rock anthem ‘I only want you’. Fans leap up and take off.
The titles of songs, albums, and the concept of the Eagles of Death Metal themselves verge on rock parody. Sexual entendres, playful odes to lurve, hot girls and arch longing, the defining characteristic here is that rock must be tight, sweaty, honest, sexy, and have a groove. There is no place here for handwringing angst or introspection. For Jesse and Crew this is a celebration of life, hope and horniness.
The set contained an even mixture of older and newer material, and moving along at a blistering pace, seemed over too soon. It’s been said that a great band contains an even spread of talent and appeal and on the 2015 tour there are some dangerously good musicians. With Dave Catching (Queens alumni) on guitar and epic beard, The Whigs’ Julian Dorio on drums, and with Matt McJunkins (A Perfect Circle) on bass even their worst shows are going to be good. On a good night (and the Forum was) they are intense and life-defining.
Rocking from one boogie-rock number to another it’s clear why they win long-term fans, but also why their records remain somewhat undersold. Simple and well crafted, the songs themselves aren’t groundbreaking, but something happens when they’re performed that elevates them into a potent elixir. A great band fronted by a fantastic showman oozing an easy and genuine charisma will always have people coming back.
Highlights of the show included Damned member Rat Scabies backing Jesse on drums for the Stones cover ‘Brown Sugar’ and the Duran Duran cover ‘Save a Prayer’ complete with floor to ceiling sing along. There are hundreds of memories from the evening that every fan will keep with them. Hanging out with the band after the show, it’s cliché to say the guys were down to earth, but as Jesse winkingly chatted to everyone, eliciting laughter and giving people time, I was struck by how approachable and inclusive they were. They aren’t regular people but they aren’t caught up with either being regular or being ‘famous’ to the extent that ,if you were to sum them up, it would be to say they were into having long term fun and as far as they’re concerned, being a dickhead doesn’t pan out. They’re grateful for getting this far and want to get and give more.
At the Bataclan, Paris on the 13th of November the band were playing another fantastic show when terrorists opened fire on the crowd killing 87 people. I was in the process of editing photos of the show and writing this review as the news came in. It often seems that we’ve become numb to the horrors and tragedies that are occurring around the world. Each week brings at least one report of exceptional atrocities, desperation, pain and loss. We react as best we can and, unable to change the world, often blame ourselves or each other.
I quickly saw people changing their FB status to include the French flag, which in turn triggered enraged responses by people who thought that coverage of the Paris attacks was disproportionate versus the coverage of those in Turkey, Nigeria or Kenya (or the hundreds of other places where terrorist attacks take place).
Changing one’s FB picture as a sign of solidarity seems a warm gesture of commiseration to those affected by the events at the Bataclan and the questions this raised regarding equitable coverage in media are also important. However, the distracted arguments regarding how we represent our abhorrence of terror and what constitutes a genuine/authentic media response seem narcissistic compared to discussing what we and our governments can do to secure a peaceful and more equitable world. That said, you can empathise with people wanting speak out again directly and receive a response, regardless of it’s actual effect, when the last 14 years of the War on Terror has seen a five-fold increase in terrorism fatalities since 9/11. Sadly the one accurate forecast regarding these attacks is that they will continue.
Even beyond the context of a music review it’s difficult to make sense of those events or to proscribe action against these desperate acts of aggression. Disrupting normality has always been the aim of the terrorists and rewriting this review I realised just how many violent adjectives are used to describe music: ‘explosive’, ‘triggered’, ‘blow up’, the list goes on. Should we change our language and behaviour? Are bands right to cancel tours or should they show resilience like the rest of us and continue our lives undaunted?
Several high profile bands have cancelled tours or changed plans in the wake of the Paris attacks (Foo Fighters, Prince, Coldplay) and several film and television releases have also been postponed in ‘consideration of the events’. Attacks like these do make us rethink our lives but we can ask to what extent are these further disruptions to normality respectful, let alone helpful, to those affected by terrorism?
While we can imagine situations where bands have cancelled shows because cities and countries like Belgium have issued lockdown orders, this hasn’t been the reason given. Are they too precious? For bands like Eagles of Death Metal though, they are in it with us. The band has issued a statement to the effect that they would play tomorrow if they could. Life must go on. Jesse Hughes in particular says that he wants to be the first to play the Bataclan when it reopens, to heal himself, as well as the band’s close relationship with their audience.
Both at the Forum and the Bataclan the Eagles of Death Metal and their audience had come together in a broadly apolitical arena to sing, dance and share an experience. With their odes to love, lust and positivity, Eagles of Death Metal contain an innocence springing from a heartland of universal feeling and camaraderie that transcends singular geopolitical considerations, as do many bands.
A message then for everyone oppressed by the violence of others, either directly or by concept, is that we should all strive to cherish the living warmth that brings people together, rejecting visions that contain only more hopeless division and exploitation.
Eagles of Death Metal 5th November 2015 The Forum, Kentish Town.
I Only Want You
Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!)
Kiss the Devil
(Boots Electric cover)
Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)
Got a Woman (Slight Return)
I Got a Feelin (Just Nineteen)
Stuck in the Metal
Save a Prayer
(Duran Duran cover)
I Like to Move in the Night
Wannabe in L.A.
Miss Alissa (Boots Electric solo, crowd request)
Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones cover) (With Rat Scabies of The Damned)
I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)
Speaking in Tongues
(Guitar duel, with Black Dog riff)
[Click to enlarge images]