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Vintage U2 finds what it's looking for

Let's face it. In our increasingly troubled times we need rock stars more than ever. Not sullen guys standing still with all the enthusiasm of someone enduring a tax audit. But bigger than life, yet graciously accessible rock stars who honestly believe in the spiritual powers of voice, guitar, bass, and drums as a means to heal the world.

Few bands have fulfilled that mission longer or better than U2, which played the first of three sold-out shows at the FleetCenter last night. Armed with a catalog stretching back to the Carter administration, the band offered an extraordinary show, complete with sing-along anthems, solemn ballads, and a heaping helping of socio-political observations, from -- who else? -- lead singer Bono.

Save for Mick Jagger, Bono is rock's last great frontman. He can be as delightfully cheesy as a Vegas lounge act or as sincere as a preacher, and he unabashedly enjoys every minute of it. Now comfortably in his 40s, he still has the raw energy of that mullet-wearing kid in the tight pants who first belted out ''Sunday Bloody Sunday" in the early '80s.

That's saying a lot for a band which has not only been together for more than a quarter-century, but is still composed of its original members -- Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. At the show's start, the three musicians took the stage and were soon joined by Bono, who launched into ''City of Blinding Lights," from their current album, ''How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." It was a fast start, with the band blasting through ''Vertigo" and ''Elevation" in the first 15 minutes.

Jogging along a walkway that surrounded the main stage, Bono's voice was a bit ragged at times, but he sang all out on every song, from ''Beautiful Day" to ''Bullet the Blue Sky" to ''Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," which he dedicated to his late father.

Naturally, he also spoke between songs, less chatter and more pronouncements about the state of the world. ''We're very excited about the future, and we like to be in a city and state that has faith in the future."

He also dedicated ''Running to Stand Still" to the ''brave men and women of the United States military," and the song was accented with a rolling scroll of the UN's 1948 declaration of human rights.

Still, in an evening full of highlights, a standout moment came with the timeless ballad ''One," during which thousands in the audience illuminated their cellphones; soon, the arena resembled the starriest of nights.

Several encores included ''Mysterious Ways," ''All Because of You," and ''Yahweh."

For the early arrivals, Kings of Leon performed a hard, fast, loud set of songs from their latest album, ''Aha Shake Heartbreak."

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