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U2 kick-started their bid to regain the title of best band in the world with a sizzling show in Manchester.

On Saturday night, they started their UK tour at the M.E.N. Arena with a 130-minute show covering all 21 years of their recording career.

It was possibly the hottest, sweatiest event ever at the Arena.

Despite the millions they have earned and the global fame they have gained, Bono fondly recalled playing to just 11 people the first time U2 performed in Manchester more than 20 years ago.

It was far cry from the weekend's concert double which smashed two M.E.N. Arena box office records.

During the show, he paid his respects to Manchester legends Joy Division, Ian Curtis and New Order before dedicating One to Noel Gallagher.

The last time U2 toured the UK was in 1997, the foursome emerged at the start of the show from a giant, mechanical lemon.

But this Elevation tour has a zest all of the band's own making. The stage was almost barren, with little more than the foursome, their equipment and a heart-shaped runway which Bono raced around.

Bono says that U2 are back to reclaim the crown of best band in the world. And by going back to doing the simple things well, they may well manage that feat.

Whereas the 1997 Popmart tour was full of theatrical excess, the current show sees Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton turning in, tuning up and dropping out some of their best songs of the past 20 years.

Bono has developed a second career as the loudest advocate of debt relief for the Third World. But it is clear that it has not dimmed the hold he has over his audience in the First World.

The crowd responded to him in a way that goes beyond rock music. At times, the relationship was closer to that between a US preacher and his excitable congregation or the intensity that the old Stretford End had with George Best in his prime.

>From the openers, Elevation and Beautiful Day, it became clear that this may be the first time that a band in their forties have been at their artistic and performing peak.

But when he took a break between songs to announce that his dad was close to death, it became clear that he had not lost the ability to wear his heart in his sleeve.

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