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U2's return to the Hartford Civic Center Sunday night was stripped-down and intimate, writes Roger Catlin of The Hartford Courant Minus the overblown production and menacing stage personas, U2's return to the Hartford Civic Center Sunday night for its first show here in nine years was comparatively stripped-down and intimate. On a generally sparse set that sent singer Bono, guitarist the Edge and even bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen out deep into the arena on a heart-shaped catwalk, the players were enhanced by a deceptively low key lighting design (and smartly focused individual video screens - one for each member). But the evening was won by their broad catalog of strong material, their ringing performance that still allows for unpredictability and the power of the moment - and a surprisingly humble stage presence from Irishmen who once let vainglorious thoughts of Messianic rock stardom go to their heads. When Bono sang "Did you come here to play Jesus?" in the climactic "One," he added with a smirk, "Well, I did." But he's convinced now much of his concert's power comes from what the audience brings to it, singing along to decades-old anthems and new songs, becoming a part of these shows that are staged right in the middle of them. Bono, who turned 41 last month, looked a bit ragged at first and admitted to feeling ill at last night's show in Albany until the crowd "lifted him up." He had to ask "What day is it?" When he found out he added, "It is kind of a church feeling we got here anyway." Certainly there was a fervency in the crowd matched by the band, who seemed welled up with gratitude at 20 years of tours to and in America. The Hartford stop allowed Bono to reminisce about the band's first shows in the state, at Toad's Place in New Haven shortly after John Lennon's death in December 1980. Caught up in that memory, Bono sang half of Lennon's "In My Life" a cappella, beginning, "There are places I remember all my life ..." That it ended with the poignant "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," which had been written in memory of another dead rocker, Michael Hutchence of INXS, was just the first of many unexpectedly touching moments in the two-hour show. Joey Ramone was remembered, too, when they played the U2 song he loved before his Easter death, "In a Little While."

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