The Irish band U2 returned to Paris on Sunday night to play the first of two shows that had been postponed in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks around the city that left 130 people dead, including 89 at the Bataclan, a music hall where the American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing when it was stormed by gunmen.
It was the first large-scale cultural event in the city since the attacks, and security at the AccorHotels Arena, just a few miles from the Bataclan, was tight, with concertgoers undergoing full body searches as they entered and a heavy police presence outside.
“Tonight we are all Parisian,” Bono, the band’s frontman, said in French to the sold-out crowd of 17,000, adding in English, “If you love liberty, then Paris is your hometown.” Near the end of the set, he retrieved a French flag from the crowd, draping it over his shoulder and later placing it in front of the band’s drums.
U2 had been set to play at the arena on Nov. 14 and 15 on its “Innocence and Experience” tour, but called off the shows, citing the state of emergency that had been put in place across France. The tour will end Monday night in Paris, with a show scheduled to be broadcast by HBO at 9 p.m.
There had been reports that U2 would be joined onstage in Paris by Eagles of Death Metal, but earlier Sunday U2 posted on its website: “This is not the case. We have another surprise guest planned for tonight’s show.”
That guest turned out to be Patti Smith, who closed out the 27-song concert with her 1988 song “People Have the Power,” with its refrain “The power to dream, to rule/To wrestle the world from fools.”
In an interview before the concerts, Bono, U2’s frontman, said it was important for the band to return to the stage as soon as possible. “Terrorism relies on people being terrorized, and we were not going to be,” he said. “We felt the biggest and the only real contribution we can make at a moment like that is to honor the people of Paris, who brought us the concept of liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Nonetheless, the show included an acknowledgment that Paris still remained on edge less than a month after the attacks. The simulated bomb meant to mark the band’s transition from innocence to experience (the album pegged to the tour is “Songs of Innocence”) in recent concerts remained part of the show, albeit with a warning: Before the band took the stage a voice over a loudspeaker announced that the explosions “are part of the show, are safe and are nothing to be concerned about.”
Bono made repeated references to Paris throughout the show, and the five-song encore opened with “City of Blinding Lights” as huge screens in the background showed images of the capital by night followed by the names of the Nov. 13 victims. The song ended with Bono singing lyrics from the Jacque Brel song “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”).
The rest of the encore included the band’s early anthems “Beautiful Day,” “Bad,” and “One,” which was modified to include the chorus from another U2 song “Invisible”: “There is no them. There’s only us.”
This is not the first time U2 has paid tribute to the victims of terror. When the band played Madison Square Garden a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, it honored emergency services workers onstage and also projected the names of those killed.
The band touched on other highly charged topics in Sunday’s show, with references to HIV, the war in Syria and the European migrant crisis, displaying the hashtag #refugeeswelcome on large screens at one point.
Few fans apparently were deterred from attending the rescheduled shows. Of the 34,000 tickets sold for the November concerts, just 2,000 were refunded and resold, according to the band.
Stephane Le Bozec, 47, who drove more than five hours from the Brittany region to be in Paris for the concert, said the idea of not attending never crossed his mind, “not for a second.” He added: “We’re not afraid. Music is my passion and the attacks make it even important to be here, to share our passion for music and for U2.”
Léa Vlaeminck, 19, a student from New Caledonia who was at the concert with her boyfriend, said she was proud to attend. “It’s how we can fight terrorism, by continuing to go to concerts,” she said. “I feel it’s our duty to be here.”