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"We were working class in 1978 when we formed. We were working in 1983 when we hit paydirt. But now more than ever, we are working class men. We take our work seriously. Our work is music. But we don't take ourselves seriously." — Larry

Politics in focus, as usual, at U2''s unforgettable Istanbul

- September 07, 2010


U2's first show in Turkey featured all the ingredients fans have come to expect from the band: great tunes, unstoppable onstage energy and, of course, political messages. The rockers voiced many issues onstage at the Atatrk Olympic Stadium on Monday; some of the statements angered the crowd, while most were supported wholeheartedly.

It was business as usual when U2 took the stage for the first time in Turkey: An energetic performance, a bunch of rock classics and, of course, the inevitable presence of politics.

Front man Bono's well-known blending of politics with rock music started before Monday's show at the Atatrk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. The singer met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday, drawing much online criticism from loyal Turkish listeners, bitter about their hero meeting a political figure who is not exactly the sweetheart of rock fans.

Bono did not mention the prime minister onstage, but his nod to State Minister Egemen Bağış received a terrible response from the crowd, which reportedly numbered more than 50,000. Loud booing rose from the Turkish fans after the singer said "...thanks to Egemen Bağış" for helping his band fulfill its dream of walking on the Bosphorus Bridge between two continents, Asia and Europe.

The intelligent front man quickly defused the situation, saying: "OK, I won't name politicians anymore. Is it OK to talk about the bridge? It is a beautiful bridge!"

Then he won over the crowd by saying that the bridge is highly important, since it connects "secular and religious," "East and West" and "the past and the future." The singer said he believes what is happening in Turkey is very important to the world, adding that Turkey is what Europe has been and where Europe should go.

But Bono's appreciation of Turkey was not the highlight of the night. At one point he said the band would dedicate its next song to Fehmi Tosun, who disappeared while in custody in 1995. U2 mentioned Tosun on the cover of its 1997 album "Pop," a move that led to the creation of an urban legend that violation of human rights was the main reason the band had refused to play in Istanbul until now. This, however, was always a myth and the band refuted the claims completely in a recent interview with daily Hrriyet.

Still, Bono showed that the band remained interested in the case and sang "Mothers of the Disappeared," a rare and heartbreaking number from U2's monumental record "The Joshua Tree" as that next song. Then came the surprising moment: Turkish protest singer, columnist and one-time Istanbul mayoral candidate Zlf Livaneli was invited to the stage to sing a similar elegy. Bono joined Livaneli to sing "Yiğidim Aslanım Burada Yatıyor" ("My hero, the lion, lies here"), a song that was also sung during the funerals for murdered journalists and political activists during the 1990s, to a thunderous response from the crowd.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday," an early U2 anthem and one of the band's best-known political statements, was also played to an excited audience. A gigantic screen showed bits from last summer's uprisings following the Iranian election and the image of Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani, who has been condemned to death in the Islamic republic. Bono, probably the only half-rock star/half-diplomat in the world, also brought up the Israel-Palestine issue, saying, "We hear you," and then, "Can you hear us, Radio Washington?"

With "Walk On" dedicated to Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under arrest for almost 14 of the last 20 years, and using a Bishop Tutu introduction to "One," politics infused the entire night. But it was a legal dose, one that would not turn the whole show into a didactic event or a political rally. Of course, politics have always been a major part of U2's history, and are never left aside during the band's concerts, and the group did not neglect the music Monday night.

With its energetic performance and the charismatic stage presence of Bono, accompanied by the magical skills of The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., U2 showed why the group is regarded as the ultimate live band by many fans and critics. Yes, it was the presence. And no, it was not just the result of the frantic stage design. It served well to turn the show into a futurist science-fiction movie set, but never overshadowed the music.

From huge sing-along numbers such as "With or Without You," "One" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to rare gems such as "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" and "Miss Sarajevo," U2 came armed with an arsenal of good tunes. This, combined with an impeccable stage presence and soulful political statements, makes for an unforgettable rock show experience. Had one of those three factors been missing, it could have been pompous or blandly boring. But when all the pieces are right, it is the formula to a great show. And that is why U2 is second to none when it comes to live concerts.

(c) Hurriyet Daily News, 2010.

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