Vegas massacre headliner Jason Aldean returns with sombre message on Saturday Night Live

Country singer Jason Aldean performs Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down to open Saturday Night Live on Oct 7, 2017.
Country singer Jason Aldean performs Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down to open Saturday Night Live on Oct 7, 2017.PHOTO: TWITTER

NEW YORK (AFP/WASHINGTON POST) - Jason Aldean, the country singer who was performing when a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd in Las Vegas, returned to the stage Saturday night (OCT 7) with a surprise appearance on a popular network television show.

Aldean opened NBC's Saturday Night Live comedy show with a sombre message of unity before launching into a rendition of I Won't Back Down, a song by rock and roll legend Tom Petty, who died last week at the age of 66.

"This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history," Aldean said. "Like everyone, I'm struggling to understand what happened that night, and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal.

"So many people are hurting," he said. "They're our children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends - they're all part of our family.

"So I want to say to them: We hurt for you and we hurt with you," Aldean said. "But you can be sure that we're going to walk through these tough times together, every step of the way.

"Because when America is at its best, our bond and our spirit, it's unbreakable," he said.

Fifty-eight people were killed and nearly 500 injured the night of Oct 1 when Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant, opened fire on a crowd of more than 20,000 people attending the country music festival in Las Vegas.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent US history. The authorities are yet to determine a motivation for the massacre.

Later in the show, the cast would turn to the political, doubling down on its call for gun control and lampooning President Donald Trump's paper-towel-throwing appearance in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. There would be laughs for guest host Gal Gadot (of "Wonder Woman") and accolades for musical guest Sam Smith.

SNL's "Weekend Update" - typically a roundup of the week's top headlines devoted several minutes to gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting.