Early during U2’s second night at Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo Thursday (Dec. 5), the band broke with its established set list to cover Simon & Garfunkel’s 1969 classic song “The Boxer” in honor of slain Japanese humanitarian Dr. Tetsu Nakamura.
Nakamura was gunned down in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan the day prior after dedicating more than 20 years to helping the war-torn country.
After the fourth song of the concert, “Bad”, following the band’s Joshua Tree Tour set list, Bono started a monologue where he said the previous night’s show had been great but this night was special. He continued saying, “Tonight we want to transcend. I’m not sure how you translate transcend but you get the feeling…. Let’s turn this sports arena into a cathedral.”
The singer then lauded Nakamura, mentioning his name carefully several and times, and also praised the nonprofit organization he headed, Peshwar-kai. The NGO has been involved with building irrigation canals in Afghanistan, among other projects in the country.
The band launched into “The Boxer” before the surprised crowd. After a couple of verses and the ubiquitous chorus the band cut the rendition short and went into an extra-poignant version of “Pride (In the name of Love),” returning to the opening set list — prior to playing the Joshua Tree album in its entirety — that has been presented more-or-less the same on the 2019 Asia-Pacific tour since it started in Auckland, New Zealand, on Nov. 8.
Hear audio of the full concert below. “Bad” begins just before the 15-minute mark, Bono’s speech begins just after 22 minutes, and U2 segue into “The Boxer” around 23:45.
This article was originally published at Billboard.