It’s been three weeks since the terrorist attacks killed 130 in Paris, but the city is still grieving. You feel it everywhere: in the kindness of taxi drivers, the forgiving nods of usually surly waiters, the quick smiles of people you bump into on the street. On Boulevard Voltaire, near the Bataclan music hall, where 89 people were gunned down during an Eagles of Death Metal concert on November 13th, is an ever-growing mountain of flowers, photos, notes and poems scribbled on rain-streaked paper. Still, an edginess remains: Military personnel with machine guns search the bushes outside the Louvre, and your bag is checked and you are patted down before you enter most public spaces. This is a city at war, even if that war is unlike wars the city has seen before. There are no tanks in the streets, but there could be a suicide bomber at any Metro stop, on any bus. Everyone here knows that, and it gives life in the city a kind of vividness and urgency. It is the kind of moment in history that U2 was born to play for.
On Sunday night, the crowd at the AccorHotels Arena, which is along the banks of the Seine river just outside the center of Paris, was polite, smiling, nervous. Before the show, many sipped champagne (which was sold by vendors at the arena) or sat quietly in their seats taking selfies, but the wariness was palpable. After the attack at the Bataclan, U2 had cancelled their shows at the arena, which had been scheduled for the following night. Tonight’s show was, in a real way, haunted by the tragedy of the Bataclan. Before the show, an announcer said, in French and English: “The audio soundtrack for tonight’s show contains explosions, which are part of the show, and are nothing to be concerned about.” For a moment, the arena grew silent. You could imagine people saying to themselves, “Let’s not freak out here. It’s going to be OK.”
And of course it was. When U2 appeared on the stage, they seemed cranked up and overwrought, as if the band members had decided over a beer backstage that they were going to play the gig of their lives tonight. Bono twisted and spun into the opener, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” and when he sang, “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/Heard a song that made some sense out of the world,” you got the idea that making sense out of the world was going to be the theme of the evening — and indeed it was. With Bono in his black jacket and purple shades and Edge with his black beanie, they were a kind of reassuring presence in this shattered city, war veterans who have been through this before, who understand something about love and brotherhood and terrorism and the fight for freedom. “We are in Paris,” Bono shouted exuberantly after blasting through “Out of Control” and “Vertigo,” as if he could hardly believe it himself. “Tonight, the whole world is in Paris,” he added. “We are all Parisians. … If you love liberty, Paris is your hometown.”