The final notes of the intro tape, the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," faded, writes Andy Coleman, and four musicians ambled on to the NEC stage.

Dressed in T-shirts, denims and leather they looked like some local pub band, but this was U2 and they were set to reclaim their crown as the world's biggest band.

The gimmicks used on previous tours were gone -- no phoning celebrities mid-song or dressing up as the devil. Instead the Irish foursome went back to basics and let the music do the talking.

These two NEC shows -- they play again tonight -- had been hugely anticipated with tickets advertised last week for pounds 300. Even ten minutes before the band were scheduled to take to the stage, touts outside the venue were still asking pounds 80 a ticket, double face value.

What you got for your money was two hours of solid rock and roll. Seven numbers from the latest album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, got an airing, but many of those, including openers "Elevation" and "Beautiful Day," have already become favourites.

Those who prefer the greatest hits material were treated to the likes of "New Year's Day," "With or Without You" and "Where The Streets Have No Name."

Although the spectacular sets of the last couple of tours have been consigned to history U2 still managed to surprise.

A heart-shaped walkway, circling the stage meant the band were able to perform among and above the crowd. A couple of audience members were even hoisted on to the catwalk to hug and kiss lead singer Bono. Keeping things simple meant the show was more effective. Silhouettes were used to good effect, with Bono's shadow projected on to back cloths in "New York" and film of dancing girls during "Mysterious Ways."

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