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"It's PopMart that stands the test of time to a much greater degree than Zoo TV." — Willie Williams

No sense of vertigo for the band sitting on top of the world

- June 11, 2005

by Pierre Perrone

The launch of U2's European tour is an event which makes front page news and fills seven pages of La Belgique Libre and the other Brussels papers.

Bono has been meeting European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and banging the drum for Africa ahead of Live8 but can the biggest and most committed rock group in the world still deliver in a stadium? Sixty thousand Belgian fans certainly think so.

Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton, all wearing black, stroll in casually and set out their stall with a garage-y "Vertigo", the lead off single from the latest album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

The tour has already played to half a million fans in the US and grossed $41m (£22.6m) but the U2 juggernaut is only just getting started. Indeed there is the feeling that the band are limbering back up to speed on the first night of their European tour.

As the Edge windmills through "Until The End Of the World" while Bono jumps up on the spot before planting a kiss on Adam Clayton's cheek. As singer and guitarist venture on to ramps which lead away form the main stage into the middle of the crowd, the show shifts up a gear.

On their US dates U2 have been going back to their Boy album. As the group feel their way back in they offer a Euro-friendly set but still manage to inject as much energy into "The Electrical Company" as when I first saw them 24 years ago.

The Edge's guitar riffs reach to the back of the stadium as Bono throws water over the front rows and sings to the heavens. He has always been one for the grand gesture and invokes the rock'n'roll spirit of other bands . He croaks a snatch of "I Can See For Miles" - The Who were a defining influence on the Irish band. Later, Bono ad libs The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" and the Walker Brothers' "There's No Regrets".

The singer compares the crowd to a little box of chocolates and says: "I'm going to take a little bite out of every one of you" - and the Belgians lap it up.

They play "Elevation" before Edge multi-tasks at the piano and guitar for "New Year's Day", which segues into "Beautiful Day" - rescued from its Premiership hell. The Edge turns out to be U2's secret weapon and remains arguably the most innovative guitarist in rock since Jimi Hendrix.

His stellar playing shines through time and again, his trademark atmospheric chimes sending shivers down the spine as he glitters all over "City Of Blinding Lights".

With its reflective lyrics, "They're Advertising In The Skies For People Like Us", the track tells U2's story - the story of a band that believed harder than most and triumphed where their early contemporaries The Skids, Joy Division, Simple Minds and Echo & The Bunnymen failed to stay the course.

U2 still manage to shake stadium rock to its foundations. Twenty six years on they draw over 50 per cent of their live set from their two most recent albums - a feat that the Rolling Stones have never managed. They are still the biggest band in the world.

© Independent, 2005.

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