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'These are our brothers': U2 gives Eagles of Death Metal a stage in Paris

"It's a rock 'n' roll show!" Bono shouted not long into U2's concert Monday night in Paris, but of course he knew it was more than that.

The second of two gigs rescheduled from mid-November, when they were postponed following the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people, Monday's performance at the AccorHotels Arena represented U2's proud return to France's capital. The show, televised on HBO, also served as the final date of the veteran Irish band's Innocence and Experience Tour.

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And it provided a highly visible platform for the reappearance of the Eagles of Death Metal, the Palm Desert group that was playing Nov. 13 at the Bataclan in Paris when terrorists burst into the concert hall and opened fire, killing 89 audience members.

"Now there's nothing left except to introduce you to some people whose lives will forever be a part of the city of Paris," Bono said after U2 closed Monday's set with its song "One." "These are our brothers, our fellow troubadours. They were robbed of their stage three weeks ago, and we would like to offer them ours tonight."

Then he welcomed the Eagles of Death Metal onstage to lead a rousing rendition of "People Have the Power" by Patti Smith, who had joined U2 for the same song on Sunday.

Perhaps this is what Bono and the Edge meant when they told me a few months ago how important it is to them that their band, long into its heritage-act phase, still be seen as "useful."

Back then, they couldn't envision the horror to come, or how they might help heal anyone from it. I'd gone to San Jose to meet Bono and the Edge, along with Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., for a talk about the Innocence and Experience Tour, particularly the opportunity it offered U2 to reposition itself following the bruising release of the band's "Songs of Innocence" album.

Dropped without warning into the libraries of an estimated half-billion iTunes users, the album triggered a backlash against U2, which critics said had become too arrogant to recognize that it was invading people's digital privacy. The Innocence and Experience show, leaner and more intimate than the group's previous tour, seemed designed to correct that impression.

Yet U2 is a band that views itself as existing precisely to fill moments – big, important moments -- like the one on Monday. Its idea of usefulness means risking the perception of arrogance in pursuit of a grand gesture.

"Terrorism relies on people being terrorized, and we were not going to be," Bono said in a recent interview with the New York Times when asked about rescheduling the Paris concerts. "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, egalité, fraternité.

"ISIS and these kinds of extremists are a death cult," the singer went on, using an acronym for Islamic State. "We're a life cult."

You could see signs of that self-concept throughout Monday's show, which had been updated significantly since I caught U2 in May in San Jose and at the Forum in Inglewood.

As his bandmates revved up "I Will Follow," Bono said, "We are all Parisians tonight," confident that his inclusion in that "we" would mean something to the crowd. And it did, to judge by the frequent TV close-ups of audience members plainly grateful for the opportunity to pour out the feelings that U2 songs are built to activate.

Bono introduced "Every Breaking Wave," with the Edge on piano, as being "for lovers who've lost lovers," a clear reference to those who died – and those who survived -- at the Bataclan and elsewhere. And though "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Raised by Wolves" were accompanied by video images of the political violence that ravaged Ireland in the 1970s (and served as a principal inspiration for "Songs of Innocence"), "Bullet the Blue Sky" had graphic scenes of devastation from the Syrian town of Kobani.

During "Where the Streets Have No Name," Bono spoke about the refugee crisis in Europe, saying, "We choose love over fear"; later, the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome appeared on a screen as the band played "City of Blinding Lights."

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Near the end of the show, Bono drew a connection between the "shocking violence" driving those refugees from their homes and the mass shooting last week in San Bernardino. And he asked the audience, though he acknowledged it may be difficult, to "think of the families of the terrorists who have lost their loved ones to an ideology which is a perversion of the beautiful religion of Islam" – another instance of U2's eagerness to occupy (and to be seen occupying) a tough spot.

Even so, that didn't seem nearly as hard as the job faced by Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal, who was obviously struggling to keep his emotion in check as he sang "People Have the Power." When the band finished that tune, Hughes walked out onto a long runway that extended onto the arena's floor, gathering himself but also savoring the crowd's support.

"I look around and I see – how do I say it? – nos amis, our friends," he said. Using stronger language, he added that he loves "you guys so hard. And I will never stop rocking and rolling." The frontman's emotions relatively stabilized, the Eagles – who according to reports revisited the Bataclan on Tuesday – then played their song "I Love You All the Time."

Unlike U2's tightly calibrated performance, it was loose, a bit sloppy, as though the band were winging it: a rock 'n' roll show, in other words. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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