On Friday night, at around the same time terrorists stormed Parisian concert venue Bataclan, Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach was less than three miles away, performing at Le Trianon with his band the Arcs. The group had finished their set before learning of the tragic events unfolding nearby. “We were hunkered down listening for gunshots,” Auerbach tells Rolling Stone. “We had people guarding all the doors, which were all locked up. We saw the helicopters flying above us; police cars just screaming by.”
Auerbach’s story is not unlike those of many who were in the city Friday night; a mix of bewilderment, fear and resourcefulness that if it wasn’t real, would sound more like a Hollywood blockbuster than terrifying real-life scenario. The singer-guitarist detailed the events of the night to Rolling Stone.
We had gotten offstage at Le Trianon last night when the news started to trickle in. We heard sirens, but we didn’t know what was going on. People started telling us there was a shooting. Then I heard there was a bombing at the Eagles of Death Metal concert. I said, “Are you kidding?” I texted [Eagles of Death Metal member] Josh Homme and I said, “Are you alright?” He said, “Yeah, I’m in L.A. Why?” I didn’t put two and two together that he didn’t tour with them. So I said, “Oh thank God, I just heard a horrible story.” Then it turned out to be true. It’s just awful.
We were playing a club almost the same as the Eagles of Death Metal: a 1,500-seat, 150-year-old theater [three] miles away from them, an American band. It’s crazy. They locked down the building. We were there for about an hour. We heard there were still gunmen on the loose. We knew there were two separate hostage situations. We were on a balcony. We had a good vantage point. We were hunkered down listening for gunshots. We had people guarding all the doors, which were all locked up. We saw the helicopters flying above us; police cars just screaming by.
Our tour manager made the decision to get us all out of there, even though the president said that the borders were closed. So at midnight, we made a break for the bus and just hopped on and rolled out of town fairly easily and made it all the way to Milan without any trouble. We saw a lot of police cars and ambulances. There were a lot of people in the street, just looking, looking around. People seemed to be in disbelief.
Nick Alexander, one of the victims, was our merch guy. We’d been working with him for years. He was part of our family basically – one of those guys we’d see every time we come over here for these big European experiences we’d been having for 10-plus years. He was always there; a really nice guy, always with his mod haircut and his big smile.
When the Black Keys go out on the road, we’re supporting about 30 people, and we have a very strong bond with these guys. Every band does. It’s stronger than most working relationships because you’re traveling in this weird gypsy lifestyle together. Nick was just a really nice guy. He was just an absolute rock & roll guy. He lived for it. Selling merch is a really, really tough job. He was one of the first ones in, last ones out. You have to be 100 percent prepared for that short burst of sales, that wave of people when they come in and when they come out. When you find someone really good at that job, you try to hold on to them. He was that guy for a lot of people.
The Black Keys played the Bataclan almost five years ago to the day. Nick [Movshon] and Leon [Michaels], who are in the Arcs, were in our touring band then. It’s a place I’ve been to a lot; a place I’ve been with the guys I was with last night. It just really hit home. I know people that were there last night. I know people who are like, “What am I gonna do – see the Arcs or the Eagles of Death Metal?” And I’ve woken up feeling very out of sorts. What do you call it, survivors’ remorse? Why the hell did it happen there and not where we were playing? I’m just so brokenhearted about all those people. And I think about our sound guy and lighting guy who would have been right there. It’s so scary.
As told to Patrick Doyle