U2's Elevation 2001 tour opened to an ecstatic reception in Miami tonight.

Nineteen thousand fans, some who had travelled thousand of miles from Europe and South America for the show, create a luminous party atmosphere from the moment the show opens with the house lights full on and the band nonchalantly taking the stage to an ovation.

Elevation, the opening song, gives way to Beautiful Day, during which four huge screens suspended high above the stage light up - each featuring black and white footage of a different band member.

'So Miami,' said Bono, 'We've been here before. We recorded a lot of POP here. We would have recorded more if it wasn't so much fun on the beach.'

The band play nearly two dozens songs in a 130 minute set which stretches from I Will Follow, their first ever single, to Walk On, their most recent, with which they close the show. In between they feature material from most of their ten studio albums but All That You Can't Leave Behind wins the lions share with seven songs.

Elevation 2001 will take U2 to 32 American and Canadian cities, followed by sixteen European cities in The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, France, Denmark and England. The band play more than eighty shows to an audience approaching two million, culminating in a homecoming gig at Slane Castle, outside Dublin, on August 25th.

In amongst the fans on the opening night in Miami are a coterie of famous showbusiness and sporting names including Lenny Kravitz, Elvis Costello, Christy Turlington, Howie B, Daniel Lanois, Rick James and several members of Pearl Jam.

Stuck In A Moment was dedicated to the late Michael Hutchence, while for The Sweetest Thing, dedicated to Bono's wife Ali, the singer takes up the piano himself. Discotheque ('This is a riddle about love...') segues into Staring At The Sun, during which fans are surprised to see the emergence of a video wall, rising tentatively to the rear of the stage.

The Elevation show, designed and directed by Willie Williams, includes videos - commissioned by the Irish artist Catherine Owens - for a clutch of songs, but they play a much more discreet role than in recent U2 tours. Tonight, as both manager Paul McGuinness and band members have been emphasising, is 'all about the songs'.

Standing at the tip of the striking heart-shaped design for the Elevation stage, Bono introduces Larry ('Who gave us our first job and has never let us forget it', Adam ('our jazz man'), and Edge ('More children than Abraham').

The new stage set-up offers a club-like atmosphere for those in the 'mosh-pit' dancing at the front and delivers greater intimacy for other fans as Bono and Edge in particular, traverse all four sides of the arena on the walkway. In fact, in one break between verses in Where The Streets Have No name, the singer runs a lap and a half of the stage arriving back just in time to catch his next lyric.

If this surprises the audience, it is as nothing to the climax of a reminted version of The Fly, which finished with Bono diving headfirst into the audience and disappearing from view. Several minutes later he reappeared with the rest of the band stage rear again, for what turned out to be the encore of the set, opening with Bullet the Blue Sky.

'Thanks for following us all these years,' he says to massive cheers. 'Thanks for giving us such a great life, how was first night for you ?'

The returning thunder of applause and cheers suggested that for 19,000 people in Miami, this first night was one they will never forget.

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