U2, Roi Baudouin Stadium, Brussels

A band on top of the world

The launch of U2's European tour fills seven pages of La Libre Belgique and is the lead story in all the other Belgian papers. Bono has been meeting the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and banging the drum for Africa ahead of Live8 but can the most committed rock group in the world still deliver in a stadium? Sixty thousand Belgian fans think so.

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

The band look like they are limbering up to speed, as well as supersizing their moves up to stadium level, on the opening night of their European tour.

As the Edge windmills through "Until The End Of the World", Bono jumps on the spot before planting a kiss on Clayton's cheek. Singer and guitarist venture on to ramps which lead into the middle of the crowd and the show shifts up a gear even if they're battling a few sound problems which are quickly ironed out.

On their US arena dates, U2 went back to their Boy album, but tonight they play safe and opt for just one track from their debut, "The Electric Co", which they perform with as much energy as when I first saw them 24 years ago.

They needn't have worried. The Edge's galloping guitar riff reaches 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 grand gestures and invokes the rock'n'roll spirit of other bands. He quotes a snatch of "I Can See For Miles" - The Who were a defining influence on them - and later ad libs The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" and the Walker Brothers' "No Regrets".

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

They play a fuzzy "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 is U2's secret weapon, 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 glides all over "City Of Blinding Lights" while the backdrop is transported into a shimmering fountain.

With its reflective lyrics, "They're Advertising In The Skies For People Like Us", the single tells U2's story - of a band that believed harder than most and triumphed where early contemporaries, Joy Division, Simple Minds and Echo & The Bunnymen, failed to stay the course, though Gavin Friday, theenfant terrible of Dublin's Virgin Prunes, is on hand as creative consultant.

The mood goes all reflective with "Miracle Drug" and the gigantic set is turned into the screen of a life support system, one of many tricks in a show designed by Willie Williams and Mark Fisher. Bono takes off his dark shades during the deeply personal "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" about his late father, but the tempo picks up again with the glitter stomp of "Love And Peace Or Else" which leads into "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The frontman ties a white bandana around his head and is transformed into the Samurai of Agit-Pop or a character straight out of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City; until you focus and realise the headband uses the symbols of Islam, Judaism and Christianity to spell "coexist". The message is instantly reinforced when it's blown up behind the musicians.

U2 have more experience than Coldplay and have inspired new groups like The Killers yet can still shake stadium rock to its foundations.

Twenty six years into their career, they draw 50 per cent of their live set from their two most recent albums - a feat that the Rolling Stones never managed. They are still the biggest band in the world.

A version of this review appeared in some editions of Saturday's paper.

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