Patrick Hutchinson, live recording engineer for the Eagles of Death Metal, was at the drag races in Pomona late Friday afternoon when his cellphone, as he put it, “went completely nonstop ballistic.”
“Have you heard the news?” one of the callers asked. “Our band is in the middle of a terrorist attack in Paris.”
“My first response was simply this, ‘What the…!’” recalled the tall, thin man with a long gray beard and braids. “Then I felt overwhelmed with a desperate desire to know the facts.”
But as the evening wore on, breaking news reports from the historic Bataclan music venue in Paris, where the band was on stage when gunmen opened fire, were filled with agonizingly contradictory information about the band’s condition. A flood of calls came in from fans and supporters from across this high desert enclave of Joshua Tree and around the world.
Hutchinson and his girlfriend, Amanda B’Hymer, feared the worst until late Friday evening when they received an email from Dave Catching, the band’s guitar player.
“Dave said, ‘It was horrifying. We’re OK. Give everyone our love.’ “
On Saturday, Hutchinson received bad news, though. Among the victims was Nick Alexander, from London, who had been hired to work on the tour. “I’d met Nick before; he was a very nice fellow,” Hutchinson said. “What happened is tragic. Horrible.” In a statement, Alexander’s family said he had died “doing the job he loved”.
The calls of concern to Rancho de la Luna, the Joshua Tree sound studio where the band worked, were a sign of solidarity, B’Hymer said.
“What happened that night was a rallying cry for an amazing army of artists -- painters, sculptors, musicians and poets – across the planet all offering to help anyway they could,” she said. “We also got calls from locals volunteering to form a human barricade around our property.”
The band, which despite its name is best known for rocking dance tunes and bluesy anthems of sexual healing, had opened its 2015 European tour two weeks earlier on a high note, performing “Save a Prayer” with Duran Duran, the British pop group who wrote the 1982 hit.
On Facebook the night before the Paris concert, the band had posted a photo shot from behind singer Jesse Hughes of a cheering crowd inside Dublin’s full Olympia Theatre. A caption read: “This view never, ever, ever, ever gets old.”
Hours before the concert on Friday, touring drummer Julian Dorio posted a lush picaresque image of himself on a bike beside the Notre Dame cathedral on Instagram: “There’s nothing quite like Paris via bicycle.”
At the 19th-century Le Bataclan theater, the band was seven songs into a sold-out concert when its performance of “Kiss the Devil” was interrupted by gunfire. Band members escaped through a backstage exit, and on Saturday cancelled the remaining 20 dates on the European tour, according to promoters.
Tours of Europe’s music venues are popular with American as well as international bands, and the terrorist attacks in Paris resulted in widespread cancellations. U2 cancelled a heavily promoted Paris concert that was to be broadcast on HBO.
Members of another popular California hard rock band, Deftones, were inside the Bataclan and had left just 15 minutes before the attack, according to their Facebook page. “Thanks for all your inquiries on our well being,” the band wrote. “Band/Crew all safe and accounted for at this time. Prayers for those affected in these tragic events.”
The Eagles of Death Metal was a band created out of the long friendship between Jesse Hughes, who was on stage Friday, and Joshua Homme, the leader and singer-guitarist of the internationally acclaimed alternative hard-rock band Queens of the Stone Age. Homme, who limits his live performances as a drummer with the band to select U.S. dates, was not at Friday’s concert in Paris.
Hughes was in his 30s and recently divorced when Homme and Hughes collaborated on creating the Eagles of Death Metal, releasing a 2004 debut album, “Peace, Love, Death Metal,” heavy with riffs and fueled on AC/DC and the Rolling Stones. Homme plays drums in the band.
The band’s name was a joke: just what would a death metal version of the Eagles sound like?
Hughes, also known by the nickname “Boots Electric,” proved a natural, ecstatic frontman in extra-tight jeans and aviator shades. His thick red mustache became a trademark.
Homme and Hughes are part of a tight-knit group of desert-based musicians with a shared attitude about their work – serious about their playing, playful in demeanor. The group has included such local heroes as Chris Goss and Mario Lalli, and has expanded to the likes of Dave Grohl, PJ Harvey and Mark Lanegan.
Catching, who plays lead guitar with the touring band, and was on stage in Paris, is owner of the studio Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, a unique workplace and escape on the edge of the high desert.
The studio is nestled on a 65-acre spread on a bluff overlooking Joshua Tree National Park, and for years it’s been a destination and creative workplace for musicians and artist who locals like to call Joshua Tree’s “desert tribe.”
A hand-painted sign and the end of a narrow dirt road leading into the grounds conveys this in several languages: “Please respect our privacy.”
Yet, just a week ago, Hutchinson, the band’s recording engineer, and B’Hymer hosted a public “Art Pop” event featuring the music, paintings, sculptures and clothing produced by its nine artists in residence. Among them was Catching.
The community of 9,000 people along California 62, about 30 miles north of Palm Springs, has always been known as close-knit with a culture peculiar to the surrounding vistas of boulders, craggy peaks and spindly forests of Joshua trees.
“We had a generator party last night,” said Cody Montgomery, 33, a local artist and fan of the Eagles of Death Metal. “It was in sand dunes over the ridgelines where no one could see or hear us.”
“We talked about what happened to the Eagles of Death Metal,” he recalled. “But I said, ‘Don’t worry. Nobody could bomb us here. Not in these dunes.”
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