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Andrew Perry sees U2, under minimal white lighting, produce a memorable performance in Manchester

U2, it's been agreed, are back. Quite apart from swanning out of both the Grammys and the Brits with all the plum awards for their 10th album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, in the past few months they have reportedly been playing the best gigs of their career.

Earlier this year, Bono pronounced from the stage at the London Astoria that they were reapplying for their old post as "best band in the world". At this first night of their UK arena tour, they worked hard for that epithet.

The crowd were in fine voice, singing the chorus of Elevation before the band had actually materialised to open their set with it (perhaps not uncoincidentally, Manchester City had just won 3-0 at home). Suddenly, head to toe in black, Bono was kneeling before his people to deliver it himself and, as they then spirited up a triumphant Beautiful Day, you sensed that, after all the fin de siecle irony of their Nineties Zoo TV and PopMart shows, U2 were now happy to just revel in, well, being U2, and that a hearty revisitation of their back catalogue was in store.

So, there were no flying Trabants or giant lemons, and Bono didn't don white face paint and devil's horns or phone up Salman Rushdie mid-song. Instead, under minimal white lighting, the four members played their hits, ranging from I Will Follow right up to Discotheque, with a rediscovered passion, symbolised by the heart-shaped catwalk on which Bono duly proved himself to be everything you'd expect and more: a compulsive, utterly compelling performer with the capacity to thrill, groove, jest, agitate and, least foreseeably, bare his soul.

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