As tipped here last week, U2 has confirmed the first dates for the 2006 portion of its mega-successful Vertigo tour. A run of five shows in Australia and New Zealand will begin March 17 in Auckland; U

As tipped here last week, U2 has confirmed the first dates for the 2006 portion of its mega-successful Vertigo tour. A run of five shows in Australia and New Zealand will begin March 17 in Auckland; U2 guitarist the Edge tells Billboard.com additional, as-yet-unannounced dates are on tap in Japan and South America.

"We're just really, really proud of the tour and how it has been going. It has been amazing," he enthuses. "We could do a lot more shows in the States and in Europe, but in some ways, we figure, how could it get any better than this? Let's stop before we push it too far."

The current North American leg of Vertigo runs through Dec. 19 in Portland, Ore., and has of late seen a more frequent change in the set list from night to night. "We've a lot of songs to draw from, and there's a strong thread through the show," the Edge says. "You want to stay on track, but also be able to break away from the set list and draw in things people aren't expecting as much as we can."

As previously reported, the Edge has joined producer Bob Ezrin for the Music Rising initiative, which will provide instruments to musicians affected by the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes. Music Rising is supported by the Recording Academy's non-profit MusiCares Foundation, which will manage the organization's grants process.

The Edge spent last Thursday (Nov. 17) in New Orleans, where the program was kick-started. "I saw the devastation first hand," he reports. "I met the first musicians to receive instruments, so I had the double experience of fully appreciating how bad the situation is. But I also saw the glimmers of hope as I met these musicians who were telling their stories of lucky escapes and what they were able to salvage and how they were coping in their new situations. Most of them are in other parts of the area and some of them found themselves by complete coincidence in the same city as people they'd played with in New Orleans. So there are new bands forming in these other cities."

The guitarist says the goal of Music Rising is simple: "To put instruments back into the hands of those musicians and try to give them the first step toward regenerating the music scene that surrounds New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast." And while U2 has no plans to perform in the New Orleans area at present, the Edge says, "We as a group are absolutely ready to do whatever we can."

"There are a lot of people I've come to know since this initiative and the stories are amazing," he continues. "But what is so amazing also is the determination to rebuild the culture and the city. People are very upbeat and positive, but nobody is under any illusion that this is not a monumental task."