LAST May, Matt McGee, founder/editor of @U2 -, 'the leading U2 fan site on the internet' - witnessed the two opening nights of the band’s I+E tour, in Vancouver.

Such was the shows' impact on him that on the way home on the second night, he listened to the Songs of Innocence album non-stop for nearly five hours. “When I got home,” he says, “I told my wife that if money were no object and she gave me her blessing, I’d take a sabbatical from my job so I could ‘follow the circus’, as they say. The show is that great.”

U2’s live shows - energetic, emotionally captivating and visually striking - tend to have that effect on people.

The 76-date I+E tour focuses on arenas rather than on the huge stadiums that made up the huge, $736 million-grossing, 360 tour of 2009-2011 (30 countries, 110 shows, 7.2 million tickets sold) which included a memorable appearance at Hampden in August 2009.

The band’s decision last year to give Songs of Innocence free to every iTunes subscriber prompted an inevitable backlash but it also ensured that the band would be talked about at a time when it mattered most - the launch of their 13th studio album. As for the haters - well, drummer Larry Mullen Jr summed up the band’s response with a characteristically terse: “I don’t give a **** if you don’t like U2. So you can type? Well done. Get over it.”

Songs of Innocence is probably the band’s most personal album yet, and this is reflected in the new tour. As their long-serving creative director, Willie Williams, told the Live Design website, the genesis of the tour was narrative. “It’s the narrative that runs through the album: the story of four teenagers growing up in ‘70s Dublin looking out of their bedroom windows and trying to figure out how they fit into the often violent and disrupted world outside,” he said.

Critics’ reviews of the new tour have been positive. “Always exhilarating, occasionally unsettling and overwhelmingly inspiring,” one London critic observed last week. "They still do this rock-band thing better than the rest." Bono falling to his knees at the end of Raised by Wolves, he added, “was as knuckle-clenchingly raw as he’s ever been.”

McGee, for his part, says I+E is hard to compare to 360, “and it's probably not fair because it’s stadiums versus arenas — apples and oranges. This tour is obviously not as grand. You don’t walk into the arena and have your jaw hit the floor because of the enormity of the thing you’re looking at.

“But it’s still innovative in the way the show plays to the whole building, with the main stage and e-stage [‘e’ stands for ‘Experience’] separated by a long walkway and video screen above it. And the things they do with that video screen are pretty incredible — listen for the audible gasp in the arena when Bono starts singing Cedarwood Road.”

McGee believes the tour pushes the concept of an arena rock concert into new places, “thanks to the layout of the stage, which lets the band play on multiple stages, thanks to the things the band does with the video screen, thanks to the fantastic audio set-up.

“Rather than putting all the speakers at one end of the arena and blasting sound from one side to the other, the speakers are hanging down and spread out from the entire ceiling, pushing the sound down to your ears. It’s the best sound I’ve ever heard at any rock concert, and makes you wonder why no one thought of doing it that way before.”

“I’ve always loved the theatrical nature of a U2 show,” he adds. “I love how they always try to tell a story, and there’s a beginning, middle and end to their shows. Not all fans care for that, so they don’t like how static the set-list is from city to city.

“But for me, a U2 concert is so much more than a list of songs the band plays. And for my money, this tour is the most complete execution of a narrative that they’ve ever done in concert. There’s so much to absorb and analyze for those of us who are into that aspect of what U2 does.”

The shows offer the band’s greatest hits as well as songs from the most recent album, but U2 have also been delving into their back catalogue - airing, for example, Two Hearts Beat As One (“hadn’t been played since 1989”, notes McGee) and When Love Comes To Town (“not played since 1993").

Even the confetti bears U2's distinctive stamp: eight confetti machines will shower the audience with pages from Ulysses, Lord of the Flies, The Psalms, and Alice in Wonderland. As Willie Williams has explained: “Bono said to me one day, ‘When they fire-bombed the library in Sarajevo, pages from books rained down on the city for days. Words, poems, sentences, all mixed up, fell into people’s hands. Do you think we could recreate that?’”

U2 play the SSE Hydro in Glasgow on Friday and Saturday.