THERE aren’t many band who can pull it off – leaving you with feeling that you have just witnessed something epic and yet so intimate and personal. But U2 did just that as their eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour rolled into Manchester.

Much hyped, much vaunted and, in some quarters much loathed, in just over two hours U2 proved why they are still one of the biggest and most relevant bands in the world with a stunning show.

This was one of those special nights; one of those concerts that will live long in the memory of those who were transfixed as Bono and co did what they do best.

Greeting the audience as they entered the arena was a massive cage-like structure bisecting the vast area with stages at either end. Suddenly this giant Meccano construction sprang into life becoming a giant screen, walkway and stage all in one. Never has so much effort, or probably expense, gone into ensuring that a band gets up close and personal to its audience.

But this wasn’t a show that worked because of all the toys being used. The technology was merely an aid, the band remained firmly at the heart of the evening.

As you would expect with U2 this was a show with several messages – the need for love and compassion in the world; the plight of the oppressed, the power of young people to make a difference and even the dangers of Brexit.

But it was also an autobiographical and self-deprecating show as you were taken through a potted history of the band.

The Blackout and Lights of Home from the band’s most recent Songs of Experience album set things off with the band playing inside their giant cage/screen.

But then all was transformed. On a simple stage with basic lighting they tore into I will Follow, suddenly becoming those young lads from Dublin who I first saw in Tiffany’s nightclub in Leeds back in 1981.

Almost 37 years later they proved they can still serve up pure, visceral rock and roll and, if that wasn’t good enough, they followed it up with Gloria. I could have gone home a happy man at that point!

Noticeably the setlist steered clear of songs from arguably U2’s best known album The Joshua Tree but being honest, they weren’t missed.

This was a cleverly planned show designed to make a point and make an impact. The graphics were impressive but not intrusive. A comic strip account of the band’s rise to fame and how it almost led to their implosion in the Nineties was great fun. It was also interesting to hear a band admit ‘we got carried away with it all’.

Who’s Going to Ride Your White Horses was a stunning rendition, leading into tearaway version of The Fly.

For the show Bono revived, thanks to clever technology, his Zoo TV alter ego Mr Macphisto and launched into a chilling warning about the state of the world. It was part theatre, part politics and hugely effective.

Bono remains very much the ringmaster. A charismatic figure, his voice was strong, powerful and genuinely emotive and the clever staging gave him a catwalk, a pulpit and a close connection to his people.

You’re The Best Thing About Me led into a duet with The Edge on guitar of Summer of Love which was one of the highlights of the night.

It’s only when you see U2 live that you fully appreciate the musicianship within the band. Larry Mullen Jr on drums is an absolute rock, pounding away as though his life depends on it, Adam Clayton on bass often adds almost a second lead and the Edge, well he’s the Edge!

Pride (In the Name of Love), New Year’s Day and City of Blinding Lights rounded off the show. Before a three song encore of One, Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way and finally 13 with Bono leaving a giant lightbulb swinging over the arena, a sign of hope in what is an increasingly dark world.

And then they were gone leaving the audience stunned, exhilarated, impressed, ecstatic and moved. If you’ve got a ticket for tonight’s second show at Manchester I envy you.