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U2 present simpler, more intimate fare at Madison Square Garden on Sunday writes Isaac Guzman of the New York Daily News.

After a decade in which U2's stadium concerts grew increasingly bloated and gimmicky, the Irish quartet presented simpler, more intimate fare at the Garden on Sunday.

The band put its fans at the heart of things at this first of four sold-out area shows, surrounding some of the audience with a heart-shaped catwalk. As he prowled the relatively simple stage set, Bono even compared the cavernous Garden to the far more modest Manhattan venues the group played after the release of their first album, "Boy," in 1980. Bono regales the crowd at U2's Sunday Garden show.

"We played at places like the Mudd Club and the Ritz," Bono said. "I remember there were 11 people, but we played to those 11 like our lives depended on it. And that's exactly how it feels right now, 21 years later."

To be sure, U2 is no longer the group of brash young men they once were. But at Sunday's concert, they comported themselves with a combination of dignity and playfulness that managed to acknowledge the band's politically charged past without becoming mired in it. Although U2 frequently touched on the anthems that made them superstars, the band's two-hour set focused largely on songs from last year's more temporal "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

In songs such as "Beautiful Day" and "Stuck in a Moment That You Can't Get Out Of," U2 showed that it was no longer so concerned with fighting social injustice or trying to stay one step ahead of the latest studio trickery. Instead, the group explored the complexities of adulthood, responsibility and love.

The band did have a few preachy moments. During 1987's "Bullet the Blue Sky," they showed images of Charlton Heston and sheet-shrouded bodies as a pro-gun-control statement. Thanking the audience for supporting his effort to reduce the debts of emerging nations, Bono said, "Let us continue to be noisy folks. We want to move on from civil rights to human rights. The right to be human!"

Yet the concert's most moving moment came not from a grand statement of universal purpose, but from a small token of affection. When Bono dedicated "In a Little While," to the late Joey Ramone &Mac220; whose brother has said that the U2 song was the last thing the punk pioneer heard before dying &Mac220; he illustrated the powerful connection between musician and fan, and how the actions of a single artist can change the lives of so many.

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