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U2 are leaving behind the technology and irony overdoses of their past two tours.

Gone are the 40 foot lemons, Trabants and phone calls to world leaders. Now Dublin's finest face Manchester in in the unforgiving glare of the house lights.

This is a deliciously arrogant gesture from a band who, as Bono recently put it, are "reapplying for the job as best band in the world". Halfway through Elevation, amid scenes of increasing hysteria, the point has been rammed home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Down go the lights and the audience erupt.

If the album All That You Can't Leave Behind sees U2 rediscovering the art of writing simple, great songs, this stripped down show sees them relying on old-fashioned stagecraft. Whether Bono is writhing in the front row, or seemingly staring out each member of the 11,000-plus audience, the band is on a mission to entertain. However, it becomes clear that this is not a regular performance; Bono soons sounds hoarse and emotional. In a defining moment, he dedicates Kite to his father Bob Hewson, who "has only days left in this world".

Thereafter, things take a darker turn, and every song seems laden with almost unbearable poignancy. Once, U2 gigs were about political ire and celebration. This has both, with Bono indignant on behalf of third world debt campaigning organisation Drop the Debt, while Sunday Bloody Sunday features mass participation. But death repeatedly looms large on the singer's mind. He speaks movingly about Frank Sinatra and Ian Curtis ("We robbed a few bits off Joy Division... I wish he was still here"), and croaks Lennon's tearfully retrospective In My Life. His "prayers" for peace in Ireland seem more impassioned than ever.

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