U2's Turkish debut marks a lot of firsts: the band's first show in Turkey, their first meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister, the first rock concert ever in the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, and the first time in over Thirty years of seeing U2 perform that I have ever heard the crowd react with boos to something Bono said!
Some background-On Sept 12 the citizens of Turkey will vote on a constitutional referendum which changes the constitution set up after Turkey's military coup thirty years ago,exactly on the date of this new vote. I have spoken to dozens of Turks on the street, at the concert and afterward, who are opposed to the referendum, or at least to two major points, the changes in the judicial procedures. I haven't met anyone who is for it. One man told me:
It's sugar coating, a poison pill.
In his welcome to the crowd, after rousing opening that began with "Beautiful Day," Bono spoke about Istanbul being the 2010 European Cultural Capital. Then he mentioned walking across the Bosphorus from west to east with (State Minister and EU chief negotiator) Egemen Bağış and that's when the crowd reacted with displeasure. Bono, always in tune with his audience, turned the tide by saying:
Okay, okay! I won't mention politicians, but can't I be a tourist and walk across the bridge?
The crowd quieted and listened to the singer/stateless statesman state his case for Turkey's global Importance. And began to cheer. Bono is correct in his assessment of Turkey's emerging position on the world's stage. Think about the country's location, economy and balance of secular to religious ideology. does Turkey need the EU?
The concert, attended by 50,000( or more depending on the reporting) drew thousands from all over Europe--I shared a cab with a couple from Kiev, met fans from Prague, Australia, England and Ireland who had come just for this, and local papers pointed out a burst in tourism associated with the concert; walking around Sultanahmet today I spotted three different groups of people sporting official tour shirts from Monday's show.
To coincide Istanbul's cultural celebration, there is an exhibition called 1001 Inventions which highlights Muslim contributions to science, art, agriculture and culture as a whole during Europe's Dark Ages. The accompanying short film 1001 Inventions and the Library of Science stars Ben Kingsley; the balance of East and West is seen again with the timing of this three-month long show set up by Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
U2's concert was awesome, lots of surprises, designed specifically for the audience at Ataturk Stadium. You can read more and see photos here. It was truly astounding, very different from the gig in Copenhagen in August and from the Rose Bowl tour on the earlier leg. Some highlights remain, but as with every U2 show there are differences in the set lists, staging and pacing, always allowing room for spontaneity and improvisation, which is why they are the biggest and best band in the world.